Category: book excerpt

Christmas Eve #bookexcerpt

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.

Season’s Greetings! It’s time for a holiday #bookexcerpt!

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?”

“It’s lovely.”

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.”

“Nonsense. Watch.”

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.”

“You’re welcome.”

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.

Lydie nodded.

“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):

Author Spotlight: KT King

Today on my blog, I welcome author KT King as she introduces her Little Eden series and the inspiration behind it, and two lovely excerpts! Welcome KT!

The Little Eden Series

Little Eden – A Magic Book – Book One

Released 2018 eBook and paperback

A Magic Book opens the heart and expands the mind.

2012. Little Eden, London, England.

The beautiful sanctuary town of Little Eden is under threat.

Human greed, selfishness and disregard are about to turn the last 1,000 years to dust.

Robert Bartlett-Hart must make a choice.

With the help his friends (plus plenty of tea and cake), Robert learns that there is more at stake than just Little Eden.

Something lies at the heart of Abbey; something that stands between mankind and Armageddon.

The friends must navigate past lives, other dimensions, and even Heaven itself, to find a way to save Little Eden and themselves.

Will Little Eden survive to usher in a new age, or will humanity perish with it?

Little Eden, Another Magic Book, Book Two

Released 2020 eBook and paperback

A Magic Book opens the heart and expands the mind.

The story continues…

2012. Little Eden, London, England.

The beautiful sanctuary town of Little Eden is still under threat of sale and demolition.

The friends must re-awaken the past to change the future. But when the spirit world comes closer to help them, there is a price to pay that no one could foresee.

Reviews for The Little Eden Series

Book Two has just come out so here is the very first review of Book Two by unseenwritings…

I loved reading Little Eden so much that I couldn’t put it down…It felt like KT was weaving a beautiful tapestry of magic rather than writing a novel…I enjoyed the mix of all types of spirituality and loved the way ME/CFS was presented. This book deserves all of the stars. Five just isn’t enough…

What readers are saying about Book One…

Magical…My heart is singing…Cosy and delicious….I literally couldn’t put it down…Quirky…Thrilling…  Captivating…Enchanting characters…A rollercoaster ride…I was always on tenterhooks…Charming…

A great escape…I opened it and blue sparkles flew out…It really is a magic book…

To purchase Book One and Two as Kindle or paperback just click on my linktree

Little Eden Books thrillingly combine the supernatural and spirituality in a magical mystery set in the cosy, idyllic and ancient sanctuary town of Little Eden. The hero, Robert Bartlett-Hart, goes on a journey of self-discovery and enlightenment with the help of his friends and plenty of tea and cake! The novels are a comical yet genuine look at the spirit world based on the work of psychic, healer and ascension coach, KT King.

Excerpt from Book One:

Chapter 1

~ * ~

   It was a sad beginning to 2012 for the residents of Little Eden, and as it would turn out, it would not be a good year for the rest of mankind either – but more about that later!

   First things first…

New Year’s Day was almost over as Robert Bartlett-Hart sat alone in his library sifting carefully through the mounds of newspapers which were strewn all over a capacious mahogany table. The sombre shadow of dusk began to seep into the clear blue January sky, and all at once multifarious reading lamps, scattered randomly amongst the furniture and piles of books, turned themselves on, in perfect unison. Robert poured another cup of tea from his Kyushu and sighed. He fought, ineffectually, with the oversized, dry, rustling broadsheets, trying to tame them by folding and flattening them the best he could. For posterity, Robert attempted to glue the numerous obituaries into the Little Eden archive (a huge, slightly musty, leather-bound book), but the scissors kept losing themselves amongst the unruly sheets and little scraps of paper kept sticking to his hands; no matter how much he tried to shake them off, they just re-stuck somewhere else!

Robert’s silent contemplation was suddenly shattered by the brusque opening of the library door and his mother’s voice slicing through the peaceful air.

“Did you find the obituary I asked Lancelot to put in the Kolkata Times?” Jennifer Bartlett-Hart asked him. She went straight to the large mirror which hung majestically over the sideboard and began adjusting her black, feather-laden hat. She caught sight of a picture of Lilly on the front page of Tatler magazine which lay amongst many others on the table. The magazine was running an old photograph of the glamorous stage star, Lilly Rose, from 1964. Lilly was posing in a ‘Vivienne Westwood’, wearing white go-go boots, long curling fake eyelashes, and her blond hair was peeking out from beneath a jaunty velvet cap.

The headline read:

“A celebration of the life of a Parisian Diva who became a very English Rose. Lilly Rose D’Or. Her life in pictures: pages 10 – 14.”

Jennifer turned away to look in the mirror again. “Lilly hasn’t been Lilly Rose, star of stage and screen, for decades!” she huffed.  “I doubt she even has any fans left who remember her! All this fuss and for what? She owned a Café for most of her life for goodness sakes and put on far too much weight eating all those afternoon teas. I don’t think that is much of anything to shout about.”

Robert sighed and ran his fingers through his brown tousled hair. “Thousands of people come every year to her charity concerts, Mother, you know that,” he replied. “And she has been a Trustee with us for over twenty-five years, and a friend to us – all my life at least. I don’t know what we would have done without her all these years.”

“I was the most beautiful woman in London once upon a time,” Jennifer replied, tilting the brim of her hat this way and that to make the most of her features. “I don’t suppose I will be on the cover of a magazine when I die. I had to give up any chance of fame to marry your father and have you boys.” Absently, Jennifer picked up a couple of newspaper clippings and added, “I hope you are nearly ready to go? Collins will be here any minute. Did you hear me Robert?” Jennifer looked admiringly at her long, manicured nails. “It’s just one funeral after another these days. It could just have easily have been me.”

“They say only the good die young,” Robert said under his breath, trying, in vain, to get the glue off his hands.

Jennifer took off her hat and rearranged her hair again, scowling into the glass. “I don’t see why your father insisted Lilly be buried with our family. Lillianna Rose D’Or or whatever she wants to be called this season is not family and never will be, and it is embarrassing for me! Your cousin Lancelot insisted on it. He can find a legal loophole when it suits him – but not when it suits me it seems.”

Robert sighed again. “It was in father’s will, Mother; you know there was nothing anyone could do. We have been over and over it.”

Jennifer grimaced, and wiggled her hips to prevent her black skirt from riding up her long, slender legs. “Your father went on about Lilly endlessly whilst he was alive; I never understood it. We always had to do whatever he wanted! What did he ever care about Little Eden? Off he goes to America with that floosy, Christabelle, without as much as a by your leave! Well! I am not going to go to this sham of a ceremony. The whole thing is just to embarrass me!” With that, she launched herself out of the room and slammed the door behind her.

Robert shrugged, and raised a resigned eyebrow as he dolefully drank the rest of his, now cold, cup of tea, and continued to cut and paste. 

After the stomping and the banging of doors had finished, he could hear the sound of his brother, Collins, calling jovially from the hall, “Are you ready?” he called, “Varsity says we’ll be late if you don’t hurry.”

“Varsity can wait!” Jennifer shouted down from the landing. She came tottering back down the stairs wearing a different hat and stiffly kissed her son on both cheeks. “Whoever thought of a memorial service in the evening? I ask you!” she complained.

Jennifer stood on the bottom step of the stairs and started to rearrange her son’s clothing, brushing fluff off his black suit. “This is off the peg!” she said, in disgust. “Where did you get it? The fit is terrible!”

“It’s ‘Lanvin’, Mother,” Collins replied. “Varsity picked it out.”

“I don’t care!” Jennifer replied, straightening his tie. “You have perfectly good bespoke suits. Go upstairs and change. You left an Anderson-Sheppard here last week. Go and put that on. If only Robert had your looks and you had his sense of style – I would be less embarrassed to be seen with you both!”

Collins smiled, and kissed his mother. “The fit is perfect, Mother. Only you would ever notice, no one else will.”

Jennifer snorted. “Well those Lawrence girls certainly won’t notice such details. Lucy dresses dreadfully! They were far too self-confident when they were little girls and I don’t see much improvement over the years.” Jennifer fussed with Collins’ mop of blond hair and he tried to get away from her, afraid she might pull out a hanky and start dabbing his face at any moment! “Robert tells me Sophie isn’t feeling well and is staying at the Café indefinitely. She has some sort of fatigue. I ask you! Tiredness is an illness now, apparently! As if we are not all tired all the time! They are as bad as Lilly and your father with their freedom of speech and their women’s liberation and all that environmental nonsense.  Robert’s in the library. There’s caviar on the sideboard – your favourite.”

Collins nonchalantly kissed his mother again, flung open the large panelled door into the library and headed straight for the champagne and canapés. Collins admired his appearance in the mirror and then, turning to the table, he poked at the papers whilst he munched his aperitifs.

“What’s all this?” he asked, in his usual casual manner.

“The obituaries,” Robert responded, without looking up.

“What all of these? Good god! You would think the woman was a saint.” Collins laughed, nearly choking on a piece of crostini.

“I think she was,” Robert mused. “Or she should be!”

Collins smirked, and looked at Robert in the mirror’s reflection. “I suppose I quite liked the old girl myself,” Collins admitted. “Baked a damn good cake! Shame she’s dead.”

“Shame?” Jennifer retorted, marching through the doorway whilst pinning her third choice of hat on her head. “It’s no shame!” she said, pushing her son aside with her hip. “Move, Collins, I need to look in the mirror! Now, perhaps we can have some of the family money to spend for a change?”

Collins downed another quick glass of champers and said, “Talking of money, Mother, I’m a bit short this month.”

“So am I, my dear. Ask your brother! He holds the purse strings around here. He is the one who won’t let us have our own money! Always spending it on the poor or giving it to a charity. Well! Charity begins at home!”

Wearily, Robert pulled on his long cashmere overcoat and replied soberly, “This is not the time to talk about money.”

“Oh come on Bobby, old boy!” Collins said. “With Lilly out of the picture you can hand out the family fortune a bit more. I promised Varsity she could…” Collins paused and grinned, “F**k! Varsity! I left her in the car. She is probably steaming by now!”

Jennifer surveyed herself in the full-length hall mirror. She smiled at herself again in the looking glass but only until she caught sight of Varsity, who was walking up the front steps wearing a magnificent silver fur coat and looking as if she had just finished a photo shoot for Vogue. Collins rushed out onto the porch, put his arm around his wife’s tiny waist and hastily ushered her back into the car.

Robert escorted his mother to the Bentley. Jennifer slid onto the leather seat and into her best finishing school position. She greeted Varsity with a ‘good evening’ and a ‘you look awfully nice.’ She couldn’t help pouting at Varsity’s youthful beauty. To comfort herself, she checked that her finger nails were still in perfect condition.

As the car passed by the end of Adam Street, the ice on the road was treacherous and Dyson, the chauffeur, was taking it slow. By the time they had reached the old Assembly Rooms, on the corner of Knight’s Walk, Jennifer had run out of things to say, so she began rooting about in her handbag for her hanky, pretending she was unable to find it, whilst Varsity occupied herself by refreshing her lipstick.

Eventually, the car pulled up outside the gates of the graceful gothic Sainte Chappelle. It was a dark winter’s eve, but the street lamps gave a cosy glow to Dovecote Street and softened the harshness of the icy chill in the air. As Jennifer stepped out of the car she cockled over on the curb. Robert caught her just in time before she landed face down on the cobbles! She had expected to see some famous guests outside the Chappelle, but looking anxiously around she was relieved that no one was there. She took Robert’s arm and paraded up the lantern-lined path, to be greeted by the singular Reverend Sprott, who was looking rather chilly, but who had been determined to wait outside, in the high and very ornate porch, to meet and greet the Bartlett-Harts. Robert gladly gave his mother over to the Reverend Sprott’s care.

The Chappelle was full of shadows – peppered with sudden bursts of flickering candle light. The glorious gold leaf of the majestic pillars seemed to be on fire, and the towering cobalt blue windows shimmered in a heavenly dance. The delicate, sweet scent of pale pink roses played amongst the deeper, muskier odour of beautiful bright white lilies. The melange of ancient church odours – a faint dampness of stone, wood polish, and carnal fresh flowers – invoked a shiver of ancient memories in the mourners.

Tonight, this holy and most sacred palace of light played host to the friends and family of Lilly D’Or. Not least, to her two beloved nieces, Lucy and Sophie Lawrence, who were standing by a small table which was covered in flowers, bottles of water and a mound of pink crystals. The sisters had been greeting the many mourners for at least half an hour already.

Excerpt from Book Two

Chapter 8

~ * ~

Thunder rumbled over the Sainte Chappelle. As she became aware of her surroundings, Sophie was overwhelmed by the scent of damp earth and fresh roses. Oh crap, she thought. I’m in another time portal. Wake up before something horrible happens! But Sophie didn’t wake up

Five nuns stood, like sentinels, gazing into the stone font in silent prayer. An ivory talisman, carved with the scene of the crucifixion, shimmered beneath the holy waters. In the shadows Sophie couldn’t quite make out the faces of the sisters. She wondered if they were the ones in the photograph, or perhaps they were the saints from her vision dream, but she had a strong feeling this was a different time in history. A bolt of lightning flashed through the cobalt blue windows illuminating the hallowed scene with an unearthly aura. The nuns were unsettled and on edge. Sophie had an uneasy feeling that there was something clandestine about their gathering.

“There will come a time when Little Eden is under threat of being raised to the ground,” Mother Superior said softly to the others. “Not from plague, not from fire and not even from the Kings men, but from the Devil himself.”

A deafening thunder clap rumbled directly overhead and a flare of lightening was hard on its heels, flashing midnight blue, wildly through the Chappelle. The nuns crossed themselves. “The true faith is lost here in England,” Mother Superior continued. “Jesus Christ has replaced the protection of the Holy Mother. The spells of the crucifixion are used to perpetuate the evil men do. They build a false Heaven in the astral realms and it will be too late for those who follow the counterfeit God – they will find themselves trapped in an alternate spirit world instead of released into the arms of the Angels.”

The other nuns tried not to appear frightened, but as another thunderous roar rolled ominously overhead, a sharp fork of lighting pierced the gloom, and the fresco above them was thrown into sharp relief. The face of Jesus loomed down upon them from his cross – watching them with an evil eye. “One sacrifice to end all sacrifices,” one of the nuns muttered.

“If we deny our own sacrifices and follow blindly the King’s priests, we will never find our own way. The responsibility for our soul remains in our own hands, now and forever,” Mother Superior said as she rolled up the wide sleeve of her habit and plunged her hand into the icy water. She pushed aside the ivory plaque and delved deeper into the font. Pulling a leather bag out from the concealed central hole, she shook the water from it and placed it on the stone rim. “Even in our own church, if we do not have the courage to look the Devil in the eye, we will never see the truth,” she said. Thunder boomed as if it were in the room with them – rattling the towering glass and shaking the pillars. The full force of the following lightening fired up the Chappelle with an incandescent blue flame.

They all gasped in fright, including Sophie!

Raising awareness for National ME Awareness Week 2020

Imagine if the self-isolation and social distancing you have been experiencing these last few weeks was going to continue for the rest of your life?

That’s right, for the rest of your life – without let up, without reprieve, without end.

On top of being stuck inside, unable to shop, see your friends, go on holidays, go to the pub, a café or the supermarket, you feel as if you have the flu 24/7. Your body won’t function. Everything aches. You find even the smallest tasks, like taking a shower, cooking a meal or reading a chapter in a book take all your energy.

Millions suffer from this misunderstood illness worldwide but there is little research and no known cause or cure. The World Health Organisation has registered it as an epidemic but governments are still not helping those affected.

It can happen to anyone at any age.

Living in isolation, often bed and housebound, without an income or state support, without medical help or carers, sufferers of ME are forgotten by society and rely on family charity to survive.

We were never supported on TV, by our neighbours or communities, the NHS or carers, we were not given mental health support or had our wages paid at 80% when we had to give up work or lost our businesses. Most of us live in poverty, forgotten and blaming ourselves because no one believes us.

When you return to normal, we will still be in in lockdown without hope.

KT King has suffered for over 27 years with the chronic and invisible disability called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis also called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. She is trying to help raise awareness for this terrible, debilitating and life destroying disease.

The main heroine of Little Eden, Sophie Lawrence, also suffers with CFS but she is still a heroine none the less.

You can follow the global campaign called MillionsMissing and/or KTKing on Twitter.

For more information please visit the ME

Association website

A bit about the author KT King

Many may wonder how I can write novels if I have ME/CFS. I am able to write when I don’t need to do  anything else. The fluctuation of the illness baffles everyone as does the resolve of those with it to battle on trying to make a living. I lost my home, my income and my independence in 2012 coming back to live with my elderly parents on whom I now rely for physical daily help and financial support. By age 40 I had lost the battle with ME.

Writing too much gives me migraines so I can only write a few days a week for about an hour at a time on what is called ‘a good day’. I write through chronic pain and fatigue but it keeps me alive and it keeps me sane.

Mental and emotional health deteriorate for all of us because we can rarely socialise or see friends. We feel we have no purpose or usefulness and many of us are in terrible pain 24/7 with Fibromyalgia which often accompanies ME.

We can either give up or we can try to do something even if it’s just a little thing on ‘a good day’.

Becoming a published writer is a lifelong dream come true and escaping into Little Eden helps keep the suicidal thoughts at bay. I hope it’ll be a beautiful escape place for you too. One of the main things readers say is that they would love to live in Little Eden which makes it all seem worthwhile!

I’m an indie author, using my savings from before 2012 to publish. I can’t meet deadlines of publishers or do the usual sales promotions.

I can spend months, even years unable to get out of bed so I need all the help I can get spreading the word about my books, especially from kind book bloggers like Debbie.

I find crafting is good for mental and emotional health so when I can I make handmade jewellery to give to friends and to sell in my Etsy shop where all the gifts inspired by Little Eden. I rarely have the energy to bake but now and again I manage to make a cake or some cookies! Some of my recipes have made their way into the novels.

Come and browse in my little Etsy shop

Both novels have recipes at the back based on the delectable delicacies served in the No.1 Daisy Place Café-Bookshop such as Strawberry and Cream Shortbreads, Late Night Cheesecake and Over the Rainbow Cake. The Ebooks have wiki-links and links to Utube for the soundtrack. You can find everything Little Eden on KT’s Blog

Look out for…Little Eden, Book Three, Haunted or Not…Available (hopefully) 2021

Thanks for sharing with us, KT!

Book Excerpt: Victorine by Drēma Drudge

As I always try to show support for my fellow art in fiction authors, it’s a pleasure to welcome historical fiction author Drēma Drudge to my blog today with an excerpt of her novel Victorine, releasing on March 17th by Fleur de Lis Press


Chapter One: Portrait of Victorine Meurent, Paris, 1862

I am called The Shrimp, Le Crevette because of my height and because I am as scrappy as those little question-mark-shaped delights that I used to study when my father took me to Les Halles. I would stand before the shrimp tank and watch the wee creatures paw at the water, repeatedly attempting to scale the tank, swimming, sinking, yet always rising again. I hoped eagerly for one to crest the tank, not realizing until later that the lid was there precisely to prevent their escape.  

So why am I reminded of that tank today?

  Today, while I am giving a guitar lesson in my father’s lithography shop, the gifted yet controversial painter, Édouard Manet, enters the shop. He gives me the nod.

 I cover the strings of my guitar with my hand to silence them.

Pѐre has mentioned Manet’s recent patronage of his shop, of course, but I have never been here when the artist has come by.

            “M. Manet, this is my daughter, Victorine. I believe you’ve. . . .”

            “We’ve met,” I say. 

            “And where is it we have met, Mademoiselle?” he asks, wincing as he looks in the vicinity of my nose.

Is this a snub? I run my hand over the swollen, crooked lump of flesh on my face.

  “I must be mistaken.” I turn away, smiling bitterly at my quick temper, at my trying to turn up a nose such as this. Of course he doesn’t recognize me.

            I motion for my student to put her guitar away: “That’s enough for today, dear.” Though she looks at the clock with a puzzled brow, she does as I say.

            My father graciously allows me to give lessons in his shop, claiming he loves to hear young musicians learning to play, though I suspect it’s more because my mother hates allowing anyone into our house besides her regular millinery clients.

Manet moves toward me, puts his face close to mine; I don’t pull away, but only because that is the way painters see.  I would have punched another man for standing so close. He snaps his fingers. “Le Crevette?” he exclaims, backs away.

             I raise my chin to regard the posters on my father’s wall. The Compagnie Francaise de Chocolats et des thes declares my father’s fine sense of color, his signature mingling of coral and scarlet. The other posters reveal his repeated twinning of these colors.

            Manet grasps my hand with frank friendliness that I almost believe. Want to believe. “It is you; I’ve seen you model at Coutoure’s. But what has happened to your nose?”

            I rise on my toes, though the height it gives me is minimal. I motion for Gabrielle to gather her music, and she shuffles the sheets.

            I move closer to him while withdrawing my hand from his, take out my emerald green enamel cigarette case (a gift from a wealthy student at Coutoure’s studio) and light a cigarette. I empty my lungs straight at the yellowing ceiling, though my torso is not a foot from his.

            My father frowns and waves the smoke away; how many times must I tell him that I am eighteen and I will smoke if I please? He smokes a pipe sometimes. What’s the difference?

            “I give guitar lessons now. Obviously, I’m no longer a model.”

            Manet’s eyes graze on me. I stand straighter. When I realize it, I relax.

To continue reading, purchase your copy of Victorine here:


In 1863 Civil War is raging in the United States. Victorine Meurent is posing nude, in Paris, for paintings that will be heralded as the beginning of modern art: Manet’s Olympia and Picnic on the Grass. However, Victorine’s persistent desire is not to be a model but to be a painter herself. In order to live authentically, she finds the strength to flout the expectations of her parents, bourgeois society, and the dominant male artists (whom she knows personally) while never losing her capacity for affection, kindness, and loyalty. Possessing both the incisive mind of a critic and the intuitive and unconventional impulses of an artist, Victorine and her survival instincts are tested in 1870, when the Prussian army lays siege to Paris and rat becomes a culinary delicacy. Drema Drudge’s powerful first novel Victorine not only gives this determined and gifted artist back to us but also recreates an era of important transition into the modern world.

About the Author:

Drēma Drudge suffers from Stendhal’s Syndrome, the condition in which one becomes overwhelmed in the presence of great art. She attended Spalding University’s MFA in Creative Writing Program where she learned to transform that intensity into fiction.

Drēma has been writing in one capacity or another since she was nine, starting with terrible poems and graduating to melodramatic stories in junior high that her classmates passed around literature class.

She and her husband, musician and writer Barry Drudge, live in Indiana where they record their biweekly podcast, Writing All the Things, when not traveling. Her first novel, Victorine, was literally written in six countries while she and her husband wandered the globe. The pair has two grown children.

In addition to writing fiction, Drēma has served as a writing coach, freelance writer, and educator. She’s represented by literary agent Lisa Gallagher of Defiore and Company.

For more about her writing, art, and travels, please visit her website,, and sign up for her newsletter. She’s always happy to connect with readers in her Facebook group, The Painted Word Salon, or on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Book Excerpt: Letters from Lebanon

Letters from Lebanon: A memoir of life and love during a time of conflict by Caroline Karkoutli with Sue Kelso Ryan, Published Sept 9, 2019

Not long ago, I received a call for help from another writer, Sue Kelso Ryan, asking for someone to help her get the word about a memoir she wrote with Caroline Karkoutli, English schoolteacher who spent part of her life abroad teaching English while searching for adventure and new experiences. Caroline now suffers from dementia, so she wanted to capture her memories of her life during that pivotal time her life for herself and her family.

As someone who studied abroad to teach TEFL, and as someone who has had family members with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease, I felt compelled to share Caroline’s story so she could preserve it before this cruel disease takes away everything else.

Disclosure: Please note that the link below is an affiliate link and at no additional cost to you, I’ll earn a commission. When you purchase books using my Amazon affiliate link, they compensate me, which helps make this blog possible. Know that I only recommend books that I personally stand behind, or feel could enrich others’ lives.


Caroline is a headstrong young woman looking for adventure, who quits her job in London for a challenging teaching career in Lebanon. Living and working in the mountain villages near Beirut, she develops two great passions. One is for Fathi, a mysterious and attractive older man, who is Muslim; a complete contrast to her own upbringing. The other is the country itself – the cosmopolitan ‘Switzerland of the Middle East’, with its exotic food, beaches and mountain resorts.Soon her peaceful existence is shattered by civil war and the bitterly-fought international tensions of the 1970s and 80s. When the first shells fall on her village, Caroline has some painful decisions to make that will change her life forever. How will she protect her new-found happiness and the lives of those she loves? Caroline’s description of Lebanon is nostalgic for the country that welcomed her, a stranger, as one of its own.



Cheltenham, 2019

Dear Fathi,

Look what I found today, hidden among a collection of photos, in a carton that once contained Turkish cigarettes – an old black and white photograph of you in your Syrian cavalry uniform. That was a lifetime ago. What a handsome chap you were. Seeing it again, I’m not surprised I fell for your almond-shaped eyes and your smile that seemed to be only for me. Of course, I never saw you in uniform; that was when you were young. By the time we met, your face showed the creases of age and experience. Come to think of it, it’s a miracle that we did meet – a Turkish journalist who lived in Syria and was straight out of prison, and an English schoolteacher, who both happened to be on the same bus to Turkey. Neither of us knew then what was in store for us together, but I’m grateful for that chance encounter every day.

With all my love, Caroline

I glance back at the black and white photograph of the young man and turn over another. Here’s Fathi again, a slightly older man with a beard and wearing swimming trunks, posing unselfconsciously on a beach. A third picture is in colour and shows him on stone steps in front of a building with a balcony, railings, and bougainvillea growing wild everywhere. Without meaning to, I sigh, recalling our life together.

Looking back, my own adventures began because of my philosophy, “I like to travel; therefore I will teach.” I don’t know what career choices you were offered when you were about to leave school, but we were told, “Well you can be a teacher or a secretary.” That’s all we were offered. There was nothing that suggested adventure. Nothing that involved getting away from home and exploring whatever the world might offer me. Nothing appealing at all. Certainly, nobody mentioned living abroad, marrying a political activist who spoke Arabic, and raising my children in the midst of a civil war. Come to think of it, that might not have sounded too appealing to the young me either. I was rebellious but not at all familiar with the ways of the world.

I turn again to the photograph in my hand, holding it to the light and gazing again on the handsome man it depicts. Middle-aged, smiling, bearded – it is my husband and everything about him is familiar to me. But where was the photo taken? Did I take it? Maybe it was taken by a friend or family member before we met. I struggle to remember, cursing the dementia diagnosis that means my memory is ebbing away, little by little, carrying with it the memories I treasure.

A deafening crash nearby. I flinch, turning my head to locate the source of the danger, even though it is 30 years since I lived in a war zone. Realisation dawns. It was just the children next door playing. No bombs; no threat of imminent injury or death. Just my mind playing tricks on me again. My heartbeat gradually returns to normal. I let the photo slip onto the table in front of me, take a sip of my tea and take up my pen. Well, this book is hardly going to write itself, is it?


October, 1970

Dear Mum, Dad and Sheila,

This is just a quick line to let you know that the plane was on time yesterday and I arrived safely.

The school is in a small village called Choueifat, about six miles south of Beirut, and there was a driver waiting at the airport to take me there. I was introduced to Mr and Mrs Saad, the school’s owners, and had a meal with them last night. Mrs Saad talked a little to me about the school and what I would be expected to do.

I met the other teachers today. They are very kind and friendly. The kids are an excitable bunch, but I think we’ll get on OK. It has been very wet here, so it’s lucky I brought my big coat. I’m hoping to get out and explore and maybe see Beirut soon. Apparently, we can ring the UK from a local shop, but we will need to arrange a time. Shall we say Sunday at five, your time? I think this letter will reach you before then. 

I hope everything is well with you. I will write again next week with some more news.

Love from Caroline.

I peered out of the window of the aircraft as it descended towards Beirut. We flew over the port area, low-rise office buildings, blocks of flats, hotels and boulevards, all seemingly squashed between mountains and the intensely turquoise-blue sea. A surge of excitement rose in me, as the ground rose to meet the wheels of the aircraft, and we bumped along the runway. After disembarking the plane, I made my way through the bustling terminal building to the exit, clutching my small suitcase tightly. I searched the crowds outside for the driver who should be there to meet me. Someone touched my arm and I turned to see a small, slim, dark-haired man, meeting his wide grin with my own enthusiastic smile. He had a placard with my name on it. 

“Miss Begbie?” he asked, taking my bag without taking his eyes from mine. “I’m Ahmed.”

“That’s me! Are you taking me to Choueifat?”

The driver nodded his head solemnly. He seemed to recognise my poor attempt at pronouncing the village name and as far as I could tell he wasn’t judging me. He popped open the boot of his gleaming black Mercedes and loaded my bag, before helping me into the back seat of the car. If anything, the interior of the car was hotter than the humid air outside and I was grateful when he rolled down the windows. The driver swung the vehicle out into the traffic, and I lost my breath as he accelerated and swerved, heading north, then doubling back onto a highway heading south. In no time, we left the city behind and the busy, two-lane road cut through farmland. My impression was that most villages in Lebanon seemed to be at the tops of hills. We passed small houses in valleys, vineyards on the terraced hillsides and an abundance of fruit and vegetable plots in the farmland at the side of the highway. But what struck me especially was the backdrop of vast, arid, mountainous hillsides that dominated the skyline. I saw what seemed like whole families working in fields dotted with vast ranks of olive trees, where they spread sheets out under the trees, beating the branches with sticks until the olives dropped down in a cloud of leaves. Others were gathering vegetables and loading reluctant donkeys with burdens that their slim legs seemed ill-equipped to bear. Before long the driver threw the car off the highway and onto a smaller road. As the road began weaving up into the hillside, I looked back at the turquoise-blue of the Mediterranean.

I leaned forward, gripping the bench seat that divided the front from the back of the car, “Is this the way to the school?” Ahmed caught my eye in the rear-view mirror and nodded and slowed very slightly, as he negotiated the hairpin bends. We still passed houses occasionally, set in the pine-forested hillside and I caught glimpses of the sea again, now bathed in an orange glow of the setting sun. Gradually, more houses and the odd shop began to cluster around the edge of the road, and we entered a village. Soon we swung left, past a gateway and along a short drive.

“Welcome to Choueifat School,” Ahmed announced, springing out of the taxi and depositing my suitcase on a rough-cobbled courtyard. Leaping back in, he departed as fast as he came, leaving me in a haze of blue diesel fumes, gazing after him. Then silence. Or rather, not really silence; there was a cacophony of bird song and cicadas as the local wildlife began to settle for the night. I looked around. In front of me was a two-storey building with a balcony and graceful arches, with two single-storey, flat-roofed buildings forming a u-shape on either side of the main block. The pines surrounding the courtyard had faded to black silhouettes as the sun set. My eye was drawn to the only source of light, which was coming from a large, square building to my left and up a steep set of steps from the courtyard. Someone appeared to be waiting for me there, so I set off towards them.

“Miss Begbie? Welcome to Choueifat. Let me take your bag and I’ll introduce you to Mr and Mrs Saad right away.” The neat, middle-aged woman took my bag and led me along a path beside the buildings, then up a flight of steps to a large stone villa with a balcony and shutters. At the door, I was handed, relay-style, to a young man, who led me along a dimly lit, stone-floored corridor. I blinked as we entered a large, grand living space and smiled as an elegantly dressed woman approached and offered her hand.

“Welcome to Choueifat School, Miss Begbie. I am Leila Saad,” she said.

“Caroline,” I said, “and thank you. It’s good to meet you in person.”

Mrs Saad did all the talking; a beautifully presented woman, she was slim, elegant and stylish. Almost without realising, I found myself trying to tidy my hair and brush down the creases in my travelling clothes with my hands. 

“And this is my husband, Charles Saad.”

Casting my eyes to one side, I saw that Mr Saad had settled in an armchair and was content to let his wife do the introductions and tell me about the school. In stark contrast to his wife, he was a heavily built man, whose stomach hung down over the belt of his trousers. Evidently, he liked his food! He smiled slightly and nodded in my general direction. He seemed preoccupied with some paperwork, so I turned once again to his beautiful wife. 

“I hope you had a good journey, Caroline?” she enquired. “Let’s get you settled and then perhaps you’d like to join us for supper?”

Shortly after, I found myself sitting at a dining table, chatting to Mrs Saad and being waited on as though I was the most important of guests, rather than a young, inexperienced teacher, taking up a post in a foreign country for the first time and ever so slightly out of my depth. The food I was presented with was completely new to me but delicious and I ate hungrily everything that was served. I’d not had anything like it before – what the hell was it? “Thank you,” I said, as each dish arrived. I remembered my table manners and tried to make polite conversation, though I had no idea what passed for polite conversation at a Lebanese dinner table.

Looking around as we ate, I saw that the Saad residence was tastefully and expensively decorated, with gilt-framed works of art on the stone walls and rich rugs and soft furnishings. Our food was served on delicate china and we drank from crystal glasses, which twinkled in the subtle lighting.

Darkness had fallen swiftly. Soon after we’d eaten, Mrs Saad found a torch and we took a short walk around the school site, with Mrs Saad pointing out the dormitories, the kindergarten and primary classrooms, and the buildings where the older children were taught. Then the housekeeper took me to my room, where I had time to reflect a little on what I had discovered so far. The Saad family were welcoming, and their western dress was familiar, so that was a good start. 

Settling into my new surroundings, I thought of my parents, back home in London, and the plain English cooking that my mum prepared there every day. I wondered what they would make of my new surroundings. I remembered my parents waving me off at the airport just a few hours earlier. In those days, communications weren’t anything like today – no internet, no instant messaging and not much chance of hearing from each other for weeks at a time. I knew I wouldn’t get news from home for a while but if I’m honest, I was ready for a break from being accountable and looking for an adventure.

If you know me now, you might be surprised when I say I was quiet and shy in my early twenties. If you’d met me then, you would probably describe me as a listener; someone who observed life, kept their ambitions for adventure and their passions inside. When things didn’t go my way, I would accept that and deal with it, but I wouldn’t walk away.

What did my parents think, when I announced that I was heading to Beirut to teach? I hardly know now whether they were afraid for me, but I suppose they put up with the idea, realising that I was going to have to go and work things out for myself. They still had my younger sister Sheila around, after all. Like most young people, I don’t suppose I considered them while making my decision. All I knew was that I wanted to travel, and this was my chance. 

I wasn’t set on going anywhere in particular, as long as it was past Europe; further away. I didn’t want to go to France or Germany or anywhere like that. Somewhere where they were likely to want a teacher. I wasn’t aiming to do good or anything; I was purely satisfying my own aim of going abroad to find out what the rest of the world was like. I was looking for travel and excitement. Most people said, “What are you doing that for? You could get a job here. I’ve got a nice job in Brize Norton,” or something similar. I suppose they were surprised that it was me who was the one going on an adventure. As I say, I was fairly quiet and shy as a youngster when I didn’t know people; quite happy to listen and comply, rather than putting my oar in. Teachers would say, “And what do you think, Caroline?” And I’d jump in surprise and give some sort of feeble response. But underneath it all I’m one for adventure, even though I don’t expect to know what will happen. I just accept things and deal with them. So, I applied for various jobs overseas and before long my appointment to a school in Lebanon was arranged. I couldn’t wait.

It wasn’t my first trip overseas; that was to Sweden, when I was in my teens. Dad had relatives of some sort in Stockholm and I was invited to visit them. I found that quite frightening, as everything was in a foreign language. I had thought that I might try to learn Swedish, but I didn’t. I am not a linguist, I don’t absorb languages easily at all, so I found Swedish hard graft. The country itself wasn’t like England; everything – including street names, food, clothes styles and architecture – was slightly different and new to me. I had a really nice time with my hosts, who were welcoming and took me to a whole variety of interesting places, such as the city of Uppsala and along by the lakes. It was a great holiday and it kick-started my determination to travel to foreign lands.

On my first morning in Choueifat, I woke early, to heavy rain and wondered what to expect. I was looking forward to it but had no preconceived ideas about teaching in a different country. I had been recruited to teach English to all the infant classes at Choueifat school, and Mrs Saad had said that meant I would be moving between classrooms at the end of each class, indicated by the ringing of a bell. All the other classes were taught in Arabic. 

I was taken down what seemed like endless, slippery steps to be shown the staff room and where I would teach. The classrooms were in the u-shaped courtyard I’d seen the night before – four rooms in what I had at first taken to be some dilapidated stables. This was the infant section of the school, and as I opened the door to one of the classrooms, I spotted that the roof had already begun to leak, and buckets had been found to catch the water. I’d arrived in October and this, it seemed, was the rainy season.

The children began to arrive; a complete mixture of European and Middle Eastern complexions, dress and languages. Some were local but the majority jumped down from expensive foreign cars that seemed barely to hesitate near the driveway before swishing away through puddles on the rutted road. Many of the kids were wet by the time they reached the classroom.

The morning passed in a blur of introductions, new classrooms, noise and excitement. When the bell rang for the end of the final session, I followed some of the other teachers to the staff room and plonked myself down in a chair, feeling weary already. Soon Mrs Saad was at my elbow, introducing me to my colleagues and arranging for one to take me to lunch.

Over the meal table, I asked one of my colleagues, “How come the kids are soaked when they arrive – do they come far?”

“You’ve seen the ones in the Mercs and limos?” one replied. “They’re from rich Beirut families and their family chauffeurs bring them up the hill from the city. Then there are the expat families, and some of the other kids are boarders from Middle Eastern families who have got wealthy from oil money. They just have to come down from the dormitory buildings. The others are village kids, and many of them have walked some miles to get here. The school’s reputation is good, and the families are desperate to have their kids educated, even if that means they get soaked on their way here!”

“Have you noticed that the Saads don’t spend much of their fat school fees on roof repairs or heating?” chipped in another teacher. “You can’t fail to notice the buckets on the classroom floors, collecting the rainwater that gets in. And of course there’s no glass in the windows. Just you wait until the winter. We all huddle together for warmth!”

“I wondered about that,” I replied. “I’m already cursing myself for not bringing enough jumpers or gloves, but I thought this was a warm country.”

“Ah,” they glanced at each other, and one gave me a big wink. “Just you wait until it gets snowy. None of the kids will come at all; they can’t get up the hill to the school because of the ice and snow.” 

“How long does that last?”

They laughed, obviously enjoying my surprise.

“It varies. Sometimes it’s quickly over and other times you seem to spend your life clumping about in it and trying not to fall over. It can last for weeks high up in the Lebanese mountains, even when it is long gone from the hillsides around the school. It makes for beautiful views. But eventually spring comes around again, it gets warmer and we get back to full classes.”

Back in the first lesson of the afternoon, the contrasts with teaching in England were becoming plain. One of those came in the person of a certain Miss Dalal. She had greeted me with a small smile and a silent handshake when I arrived, but without any impression of warmth; this woman was discipline on legs. At first I had thought her main job was to ring the bell that indicated the end of a lesson. On my way to a class, I saw a small child being led away by Miss Dalal and realised he must have been naughty by the expressions on both their faces. So her role also included discipline, I reasoned. Other teachers later shared with me that Miss Dalal had a fearsome reputation for beating the children, which came as a shock. This was at odds with the liberal teaching methods I’d just been taught, and it wasn’t the way I liked to do things at all.

“She has a selection of sticks and rulers, some with a metal edge to them – they cut! She is a vicious woman,” I was warned. I checked my colleagues’ expressions for any signs of teasing – half expecting them to take advantage of me as the new girl – but they were deadly serious.

“You think Miss Dalal is bad!” A Lebanese teacher confided. “At the secondary school I attended, we had supervisors controlling the corridors, making sure everyone behaved. They’re like glorified teaching assistants, mostly Palestinians without papers, and because they don’t have work permits, they are easy to get rid of. They’re afraid of losing their jobs and the kids are afraid of them.”

Now that I knew what to expect, I noticed that Miss Dalal would walk around outside the classrooms, and occasionally you would hear the whack from her stick and a child’s yell. Then one day my class was enjoying a rather rowdy singing session, and the door creaked open. The singing stopped, replaced by complete silence. I turned to see what the interruption was. At the door was a tiny, fierce creature; Miss Dalal. I soon realised the reason for the effect Miss Dalal was having on my class; she might be slightly built but she had indeed come armed with a sturdy stick. I had no intention of letting her beat any of my kids with her big stick, so I got my courage up and said firmly, “I’m teaching!” 

Miss Dalal never did get her hands on my children. However, I wasn’t above taking advantage of their natural reluctance to be sent to see her. Just a single mention of “Miss Dalal—” in a voice laden with foreboding would deter any child contemplating disrupting my class.

At the end of my first day, the children dispersed. I went to take a closer look at the commotion at the end of the driveway, where you couldn’t move for all the big, posh cars collecting the children who had come up from Beirut. Who knows how their parents became so wealthy? Asking around among the other teachers, there were rumours about a lot of black-market activity, but I can’t be sure it was that. Finally, the last car door slammed, and the last Mercedes shot off down the hill in a blue haze of diesel. Walking back through the school grounds I watched, fascinated, as shrieking, laughing and squabbling children played games, many of which were unfamiliar to me. These children boarded at the school and they were allowed some freedom to play after supper and before being herded into their dormitories for the night.

My first day was over and I made my way to the staff room, where other teachers were gathered at a dark wooden table, sitting on formal sofas or chatting in groups. Some of the teachers were Lebanese locals and they had gone home to their families; others were resident, like me. It seemed that most of their leisure time was spent quietly in the school itself, with the other staff and perhaps with the odd book or a game of cards and a chat. As is usual in any workplace, there was also some grumbling about how the school was run and any problems that had arisen during the day. The teachers were mostly female, especially in the primary school classes. They were all sociable and friendly. We were a mixed bunch, from a variety of different backgrounds and countries, though we tended to fall naturally into two groups – the English gathered together and the others, which included Iraqis, Iranians and several Germans, mixed together. The English teachers taught English and the others taught everything else. It was interesting to hear their views on the school and the teaching methods we were expected to employ.

“How did your first day go, Caroline?” asked one.

“It was different!” I said, seeing some wry smiles and nods from the others.

“Yes, it’s unlike any school that most of us have taught in before. One of the main problems is the lack of basic resources to do any teaching with. I don’t know how they expect the kids to learn.” 

This was something I agreed with immediately. “Yes, is it right that the only text book I’ve been given is American? The topics and illustrations don’t seem to mean much to any of the kids, whether they are Lebanese, Austrian, German or French pupils. The characters – Anita and Tony – live in a huge American house, on a farm on the prairies. It’s nothing like the village houses or city apartments that the kids here are likely to be familiar with. Are we expected to sit there repeating phrases like, ‘What can the dog see? It can see Tony. What is Anita doing? Anita is reading a book’ all day long?”

“I’m afraid so,” came the reply. “The approved method here is repetition and rote learning. Forget any creative ideas you might have!” The speaker looked jaded and sighed as he slumped down into a chair against the wall.

“The books we used at my previous school in Wembley and at my teacher training college were pretty tedious but I’m beginning to miss them already!” I said. “At least with those books you had the sense that these were real people and the kids could identify with them, but I really feel that they are going to struggle.” I looked around to see whether anyone was shocked and felt braver as I saw that nobody was disagreeing. “Isn’t it possible to adapt our methods – to teach the children, not the book, as someone once said?”

But my colleagues were wary. One whispered, “Better not to risk it. The Saads have their methods and it pays to stick to them.”

‘Hmm,’ I thought, ‘What’s the point, if they aren’t learning anything?’ I am a strong believer that young children learn best when they’re having fun and so I resolved to inject some excitement into my lessons, whether the Saads liked it or not.

The next day, we did some singing and tapping rhythms – whisper it, we even told some jokes! I soon discovered that they could learn, they just had to be taught properly. Some of the children had one English-speaking parent, so they managed the language more readily. I quite quickly recognised the children that I had to give something a bit harder to and the ones I’d have to sit with, when I could, for longish periods of time. And so I began my time at Choueifat, confident that I could make a difference by bringing in some different methods and that I could keep my young charges in order. After all, we had Miss Dalal outside.


To purchase on Amazon:

It’s Time for Teaser Tuesday!

We’re two days from the release of The Broken Tree, and I’m happy to give you a final excerpt before it goes live! Today we’re meeting the third couple in The Broken Tree, Elliott and Kate. Enjoy!

The Broken Tree, copyright 2019 Kellie Butler. All rights reserved.

Elliott strolled down the hall and out onto the lush, green lawn that, even in early evening, was still teeming with people. He hadn’t expected such a crowd. Bank holidays usually meant to trips to the beach, but as he gauged the crowd, these were locals that had come out for a relaxing day or evening, and the last hurrah before it was time to return to work. It wasn’t long before he spotted Edward Cavert. He was chatting with families as he moved amongst the crowd with a mega-watt smile. Elliott studied him for a while before he moved on. By all appearances, he acted as owner instead of just a caretaker. He wondered how the Bainbridges felt about that. Hmm.

Elliott nodded at a few people as he ambled across the lawn. He hated this sort of thing more than nearly anything else, but he had to blend in. He was grateful for the tables and chairs placed in the formal garden and took a seat. He observed the crowd as the purple sky of twilight began to fade to indigo.

A little boy near him pulled on his mother’s skirt. “Mommy, are we going to miss the fireworks?”

“I hope not, son. The show is supposed to be more of a spectacle this year.”

The boy seemed placated, but he kept looking up at the ominous dark gray clouds that blanketed the area. Rain was imminent. As swift-moving as they were, perhaps they would empty their contents and move on. Elliott felt for the little boy. He too loved a good firework show when he was that age.

“Excuse me, little chap, would you care for a present?” Elliott asked the boy. The tyke eyed him cautiously and then turned to his mother. Elliott took out a pound and held it up for the boy to see. “See, it’s a pound. Would you like it?”

“Mummy, may I have it?” The boy looked towards his mother for guidance.

“Yes. Say thank you to the gentleman for being so generous.”

The tyke took the note from Elliott’s hand. “Thank you, sir.”

Elliott smiled. “Have you come to see the fireworks?” The boy nodded. “So have I, but I’m not from here. Tell me, when are they going to have it?”

“As soon as it gets dark. We brought our blanket to sit on and watch.” The boy held up a thin cotton blanket.

“And why not? Thank you, my boy. Have a lovely evening.”

Elliott smiled as the little boy stared at the note in his hand as he and his mother continued down the path with their blanket. As his eyes followed the pair, he heard a voice behind him. “Hello, darling. I wondered when you would get here.” He turned around and Kate stood there in a radiant orchid gown. What caught his surprise was the necklace she was wearing.

“My dear, what a unique bauble. Where did you find it?”

“Oh, something that Lydie gave me years ago.”

Elliott nearly choked but kept his calm. “Tell me, have you seen Lydia?”

“Oh, yes. She was with a group of her school friends. She’s getting awfully big. Granted, her dress hides it, but I’ve noticed she’s been a bit tired today.”

“So, you haven’t spoken to her or your brother today?”

“No, I’ve been waiting to see you.”

“Well, let’s go enjoy the fireworks. I’m sure we’ll create some of our own tonight.”

“Elliott, I’ve been thinking about something,” Kate bit her lip.

“Oh, what is that?”

“I rather wonder if we could delay mentioning that to them tonight.”

“My dear, are you ashamed of me?” He stepped back.

“No, of course not.”

“Then why wouldn’t you be happy if I announced our engagement?”

“I suppose with Lydia’s condition and everything, it might be hard.”

“What does that have to do with her pregnancy?”

“It’ll make Henry upset and then she’ll be upset. It won’t be good for the baby.”

“Well, I suppose I couldn’t. Actually, I’ve wanted to talk to you about something. I’ve been thinking that I might take on a nurse to help me and perhaps with you. She’s here at Laurelhurst now and we could take her back with us. Or I could just take her back with me.”

Kate grew pale. “What nurse?”

“Nurse Fielding, the one I told you about. Come dear. I told you I posted a job opening for a nurse and she called. Apparently, she wants to move on.”

Kate’s voice grew cold. “Because she isn’t wanted here anymore. She lashed Bobby and made passes at Henry so Lydie fired her. You do know that she and Edward dated for five years, or did she fail to mention that? Apparently, she thought Henry would be a better husband. All that peroxide has gone to her head.”

“You’re awfully defensive, Kate.”

“I’m not being defensive. I utterly can’t stand that woman. Any chit like that who would leave welts on a child’s chest shouldn’t be taking care of anyone. If you want a chit like her, I hope she gives you bruises after she milks you dry. You deserve what you get,” Kate rose up and walked off.

“Kate,” Elliott rose and went after her. “Don’t make a scene, my dear girl. People are staring at you. Do you think your brother-in-law or sister-in-law want their private affairs laid out in the open? Especially on a day they are inviting people to discover this beautiful place. You want to spare them pain? Then get a hold of yourself.”

Kate stopped and turned around. Elliott stood there, grasping his cane. “I’m sorry.”

“Thankfully only a few people heard you. Hopefully the firework show will make them forget what they heard.”

“They’ve put a lot of work into it. Lydie brought extra blankets. We could sit there.”

“No, let’s find somewhere far away from them. I gave my luggage to a footman. I’m not even sure where I’m staying tonight.”

“Upstairs on the second floor. I’m right across the hall from Henry and Lydie in the master suite. You should see it. It’s gorgeous.”

Elliott tried to not blush from the thought of Lydia reclining in bed. Thankfully the dark sky hid his true feelings. Moments later, the first starbursts of light lit the sky and people around them gazed in delight as colors exploded over the night sky and showered towards the ground. For fifteen minutes there was nothing but joy as the crowd was treated to a display they wouldn’t see again until Bonfire night.

To purchase your copy of The Broken Tree on Amazon, click here:

For Nook, Kobo, and Apple books, click here:

It’s time for Teaser Tuesday!

Last week I brought you an excerpt from my upcoming release of The Broken Tree that featured Henry and Lydie. This week for #TeaserTuesday I’m featuring another couple in the book, Edward and Tilda. Enjoy!

The Broken Tree, copyright 2019 Kellie Butler. All rights reserved.

As soon as the car had rolled down the drive carrying Henry’s family and Dr. Everby, Edward made his way to put his romantic afternoon plans with Tilda into action. He knew she wouldn’t be busy with work today, so there was no reason she should avoid him. There was no propriety to keep. The moment Lydie had mentioned this morning that her family would be gone for the afternoon, he had ideas rolling through his head.

Tilda had said that she thought that their relationship was a bit of a fun for him, and that simply had not been true. If anything, she was the reason he worked so hard to make a name for himself. He wanted her to have someone she could be proud of. Sometimes that had taken him away from her, but during those long, lonely nights he had thought of her golden curls that tumbled down to her shoulders.

He had left the morning room and had set off towards the kitchen to work up a feast for him and Tilda, if he could distract her away. He had seen her going into Dr. Lane’s office with Henry, all pouty and what not. He wondered what that conversation had been about. Part of him wondered if she had a bit of fixation on Henry. Edward had seen the way she had blushed with him and the deference she gave to his brother-in-law whenever he spoke. There was a quiet confidence to Henry that he had seen plenty of nurses gravitate to back in New York. Fortunately for Edward, Henry had fallen hook, line, and sinker, for Lydie.

He hadn’t seen Henry in several years, though, and goodness knows people changed. Relationships changed. It had hit Edward hard that Tilda hadn’t been receptive to his advances when he returned to Laurelhurst. He had expected a much warmer homecoming. Instead, he had gotten a comparison between himself and his brother-in-law. He almost wondered if he had something to be worried about.

However, he realized that Henry was just as in love with Lydie as he ever had been. Lydie had taken to her bed after their visit with Mrs. Potts, and instead of making his visit with patients, Henry had stayed with her. When they had finally emerged at dinner, although Lydie still appeared slightly shaken and upset, Henry’s calm presence had bolstered her throughout the evening. He shouldn’t have been surprised.  His brother-in-law valued loyalty and stayed true to his commitments.

Yet for some reason Tilda had this fixation on Henry. She almost had a fanatical attachment to them,  so than with any other charges she had ever had. It wasn’t healthy.

Maybe being here these past two years had her yearning for a different sort of life. Perhaps he had been insensitive to her thoughts and needs. He had only thought of himself, thinking that the companionship and camaraderie that she had said she loved here would see help make things easier. Far easier than it had been for him.

Perhaps what she saw in Henry and Lydie was the chance for excitement. He had to do something about it. And then he had thought of it. There had been a few precious possessions that he had requested from his parents. He had heartily agreed that Henry and Lydie would take their gold wedding bands. At the time, he never thought he would get married. But he had asked Lydie for his mother’s engagement ring and she had given it to him gladly.

So, after Henry and Lydie left the house, he went to the kitchen and requested the cook fix up a picnic basket and bring out one of the best bottles of wine, one that he had reserved for Lydie’s homecoming, only to discover she wasn’t drinking. Henry was over-protective of her diet. With the basket ready, he went in search of Tilda, whom he had found straightening the girls’ bed.

“If you keep straightening those pillows, they’re going to come to life,” Edward said as he walked in.

Tilda caressed the pillows. “I just want to make sure everything is as it should be when the family returns.”

“They just left and won’t be back for hours. You’re off-duty, Tilda. Fancy stepping out into the sunlight with me? It’s a gorgeous day and I have a special afternoon planned for us. Come on, let the maids take care of that!”

“Not like I can. Let me finish my duties and then I’ll go out with you.”

“Fair enough,” Edward glanced around the room. Stuffed animals and dolls were on chairs and the floor in the girls’ room. “They have a lot of toys, don’t they?”

“Oh, yes. Nora loves her doll and Suzy loves her bunny.”

“You’re quite attached to them, aren’t you? They’ll be leaving in a few short weeks. Practicing for children of your own?”

“Yes,” she picked up the stuffed white bunny that had fallen on the floor and caressed it. “More than anything but with the right man, of course.”

“Then might I suggest instead of caressing that bunny that you turn your attention to a warm man such as me?”

Tilda sat the bunny down on the quilted coverlet. “I’m looking for someone like Dr. Bainbridge. That’s the kind of man a girl wants.”

“Who happens to be my brother-in-law.”

“I know that, but if your sister found a man like him, I can too! He’s so kind and loyal. He wouldn’t leave his wife for two years and gallivant off to parts unknown, unless he had to. He’d stay with her.”

“So, that is what this is about. You are upset that I was away for two years. It was no picnic, Tilda. You try living in a tent for nearly two years. Since you are so fixated on Henry and Lydie, let me tell you something about them. Henry was in Korea for two years, and Lydie gave him the biggest homecoming when he returned because she loved him. What’s more, Lydie was away for three months in Paris before they married , and Henry had a big welcome home party waiting for her when she opened the door to our flat on her return. They have been away from each other several times, but they have always stayed loyal to each other.

Tilda sighed. “He’d know what to do.”

“What’s all this business about Henry, anyway? Darling, come out to the garden. Please, I have…”

Tilda pushed him away. “Edward, I have asked the Bainbridges if I can go to New York with them as their nurse.”

Edward’s mouth fell open and then shut quickly. “You what? What did they say?”

“Well, I asked Mrs. Lydia first and didn’t seem all that keen about the idea. Threw up all sorts of things I wouldn’t like about it.”

“Mhm, and what did Henry say?”

“He wondered why I was asking him after I had run it by her. He said they would have to discuss it and get back to me.”  Edward’s lips curled into a smile, which made her angry. “What are you grinning about?”

“It’s what I expected from them. Do you think you still have a chance to set sail for America? Has Blighty’s shores become too dull for you?”

“I won’t dismiss it until they do, and why shouldn’t a girl be excited about the chance of living in New York?”

“You lived in London and that wasn’t enough for you?”

“Everything shuts down in London. It’s dead after midnight, but in New York everything is possible! Besides, your sister ended up with a dreamy man.”

“Lydie had her share of heartache, too. The streets of New York aren’t always kind, Tilda. Besides, when will you get the chance to meet this dream man when you’ll be at home with Lydia and the children six days out of the week? She’ll need you.”

“I’ll get my day off. Then I can go into the city and explore. Plus, they are around quality people.”

“And you think you’ll have time to meet one of his colleagues when your primary job will be to take care of the little one so Lydia can actually entertain people? Do you think you’re going to be sitting around the dinner table with them?” Edward backed away towards the door.

“Why not?”

“Because let me give you a word of advice. Although Henry is a compassionate man, he doesn’t suffer fools easily. Your priority had better be doing your job, which in this case is taking care of his wife and children. If he gets any inkling that you’re playing him for a fool, he will not tolerate it. Ever. I’ve seen nurses try to seduce him and it never worked.”

“They aren’t me. I think he’ll see things my way.”

“Do you think Lydia will?”

“She trusts me.”

“She won’t trust you if she thinks you’re trying to make a play for her husband. You try that and you’d be out on your ear faster than you can change your knickers. To think that this afternoon I was going to give you my mother’s engagement ring. I don’t think you deserve it now, because I clearly see for what you are.” Edward turned around and headed towards the door.

“Edward! You didn’t say anything about an engagement ring!”

“I wanted to, but you were too busy thinking about your possible life in America! I’d better go out to the garden. I’m afraid the picnic I planned for us will spoil.” He turned abruptly and left.

“Edward!” Tilda ran after him, but he was already on his way down the stairs. Oh, she had mucked this up.

Teaser Tuesday!

We’re only a couple of short weeks away from the release of The Broken Tree, so it’s time for #teasertuesday!

From The Broken Tree Copyright 2019 by Kellie Butler. All rights reserved.

As they approached the old blackened oak, both Chester and Minstrel stopped abruptly.
“What’s going on?” Henry nudged Chester, but he wouldn’t budge.
Lydie shook her head. “I don’t know. They won’t go near that tree.”
Remnants of the tree lay broken like the remains of a skeleton long forgotten. It’s bare branches reminded Lydie of arms and fingers. Underneath, the ground had withered despite that the surrounding heath was covered in purple flowering heather. Even a few passing birds seemed disturbed by the old tree and refused to take refuge from their flight in its branches.
“They certainly don’t like it.” Henry said.
“I’ve heard about this. There’s something about this tree that no living thing will go near. Don’t you remember me telling you about it before we married?”
“Vaguely, now that the you mention it.”
An overwhelming sense of sadness seemed to emit from the tree. “I’m going to investigate.” Lydie hopped off her horse.
“Lydie don’t,” Henry called but it was too late. “All right, I’m going too.” He dismounted and followed her.
Lydie walked slowly towards the old oak allowing Henry to catch up with her. “I just want to see what’s making the horses so upset.”
“It looks rather sinister to me.”
“An inanimate object, Henry? I’m surprised at you.”
“I’ve heard of a tree like this back in New England. There’s one in Pennsylvania or Delaware called the Witch’s Tree. According to legend, a witch’s soul will take up residence in a dead tree, hence why living things won’t go near it.”
Lydie shook her head. “I would have thought a man of science like you wouldn’t believe old tales. It sounds something out of the film.”
“Yes, but I’m not liking this tree one bit. Look at its trunk.” Henry gestured to the split trunk.
“It appears as if it was struck by lightning.”
“I think you are right. Look at that burn mark. “Henry traced his gaze upwards towards the canopy. “It must be several hundred years old from how massive it is. Look at those limbs down on the ground.”
“They look like fingers coming out to grab you.”
“Lydie, you and your imagination.”
“It’s so silent around here, Henry. Listen.” The haunting sound of the wind rolled across w the deserted heath. She bent down to touch the black bark of the tree.
“Don’t, Lydie. Don’t touch it,” Henry said.
“What is it going to do? Grab me?”
“No, but I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” Henry glanced back at the horses, who pawed at the ground. “Look, the horses are getting antsy. We need to get going.”
“Yes, I think you’re right. That bark is just so odd. Do you see how it appears burnt from the inside out? I can’t describe the markings.”
“Lydie, let’s go, okay? Come on, I’ll help you mount.”