I’m delighted to say that my book of twinned novellas, Home Fires Burning, has been relaunched by Lethe Press. Very apt, given the anniversary of WWI this year.
Two stories, two couples, two eras, timeless emotions. In “This Ground Which Was Secured At Great Expense,” it is 1914 and the Great War is underway. When the call to arms comes, Nicholas Southwell won’t be found hanging back. It’s a pity he can’t be so decisive when it comes to letting his estate manager Paul Haskell know what he feels before he has to leave for the front line. In the trenches Nicholas meets a fellow officer, Phillip Taylor, who takes him into the unclaimed territory of physical love. Which one will he choose, if he’s allowed the choice? In “The Case of the Overprotective Ass,” stars of the silver screen Alasdair Hamilton and Toby Bowe are wowing the post WWII audiences with their depictions of Holmes and Watson. When they are asked by a friend to investigate a mysterious disappearance, they jump at the chance-surely detection can’t be that hard? But a series of threatening letters-and an unwanted suitor-make real life very different from the movies. Charlie Cochrane brings her familiar romantic, roguish style to the two novellas that together are Home Fires Burning.
The leaves on the copper beeches danced in the breeze; the late summer sun lighting on them produced a warm glow. Nicholas had always loved them more than any other trees on his estate, even in their bare winter form. Now, leaving the cab at the gate and savouring the walk along his own drive, he saw them afresh. He used to meet Paul under these branches when they were hardly more than boys, taking a chess set or pack of cards to play seemingly endless games bathed by the warm August Hampshire sun. There’d be no time for such frivolity now.
He told Nanny that he was signing up almost as soon as he reached the house, before anyone else. She’d been so proud at the thought of him putting his name down. “You’ll look a picture in your uniform. Have all those mesdemoiselles waving their handkerchiefs at you. Be careful you don’t come back with one of them on your arm.”
“I promise.” Only recently had Nicholas been able to address his former governess and not feel seven-and-a-half again. Even though he towered over her, she would always seem the grown-up one of the pair. “I hope to be off training in just a few weeks, which will give me time enough to set my affairs here straight. There are plenty of safe pairs of hands to entrust things into.”
“Young Mr. Haskell will keep a steady eye on things,” Nanny said, fiddling with her knitting. No doubt those fingers would be employed producing socks or scarves or who knew what else over the next few months. “You’ll be back come the spring, in time to see the lambs over at Longlea.” She made the pronouncement as if it were a certainty, as sure as Christmas Day falling on December the twenty-fifth.
“I hope so.” As Nicholas spoke the words, he felt a prophetic jolt, and knew it was all a lie. Somewhere inside—heart or brain, he couldn’t be sure—he was certain they were in for a long campaign. Leaving the old lady with her wool and her thoughts, he went out into the gentle light to find Paul.
As he walked down the path back to the beech avenue an instantly recognisable, elegant figure came to meet him, a gun hanging off its shoulder and an uncharacteristically serious look on its handsome face.
“You’ll sign up?” Paul didn’t attempt any small talk; it wasn’t their way. They usually met three times a week, if Nicholas was down in Hampshire, and those meetings always began with a litany of business, action taken or to be considered on the estate, successes and failures. Only when all the business was dealt with would Paul take a beer, relax for half an hour and indulge in chit-chat. A discussion of parish scandal, something which might have been called gossip if they’d been female, a brief harking back to the days when they’d traded all their secrets over that chess board. True to form, Paul hit straight at the crux of things now.
Nicholas wasn’t sure if the question was an order—you do this for the honour of the estate, I can’t—or some sort of expression of jealousy, that he could go where the other man could only dream of. He couldn’t dare hope it was the beginnings of a plea for him not to go.
“It’s my duty.” The words seemed inadequate, barely expressing anything Nicholas felt. Yes, he was bound by duty, but there were other considerations. He was, he knew, running away from conflict as much as running towards it.
“I’ll look after things.” Paul’s eyes registered something which might have been offence.
Nicholas replied hastily. “Of course you will. I’ve never doubted it.” He’d doubted his own intentions, of course.
He cast a sidelong glance at Paul, wondering what expectations he’d have. The estate manager wore his business face, a cool, clear eye surveying the fields, maybe weighing up the chances of the next pheasant brood surviving the depredation of fox or buzzard.