Two stories, two couples, two eras, timeless emotions.
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?
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, author of the delightful Cambridge Fellows series, brings her familiar romantic, roguish style to the two novellas that together are Home Fires Burning.
The following excerpt is from the first story: This Ground Which Was Secured At Great Expense
He was still alive, unless he’d died and this was hell. No, it had to be real; Nicholas wouldn’t be telling himself how damned lucky he was, otherwise. Luck? Given the average length of time an officer lasted out here it was more like a miracle, some guardian angel watching over him, sitting at his shoulder and fending off bullets and shells. It didn’t do to keep thinking about why one man survived and the one next to him in the line went down, how inseparable friends were parted by a sniper’s sharp aim. Fairness didn’t come into it, nor logic, and no one could possibly understand who wasn’t living in its midst.
This was no chivalric tournament. There was no white charger and the only dragon roared with the voice of field artillery.
The first letter from Paul had come within days of Nicholas reaching his training camp. Stiff, formal, and full of business, it had required an answer to one particular question about the state of the stable roof, one Nicholas was sure the man could have answered for himself. Paul still deferred to his absent employer; soon he’d be getting into the swing of making weightier decisions as a matter of course, the reporting back almost a formality.
Unless. Unless the question about the roof had been asked to ensure that Nicholas replied; almost every letter had seemed to contain something which needed a response. He’d tried not to raise his hopes about that, any more than he tried to raise his hopes that the British really were gaining ground against the Hun. Wondering if there was hidden significance in Paul’s words was as pointless as hoping the war would be over by Christmas 1916, let alone this. And there was always what seemed like a last-minute, casual addendum. What is it like there? Have you seen anything of Belgium? Do you see much of the horses?
What is it like there? That same question came often, but how could Nicholas reply with any degree of truth? It wasn’t even worth the attempt, as it would all get censored, anyway. Water and lice, that’s what it’s like, Paul. Our two greatest preoccupations.
He’d crafted the words in his heart often enough, the lines he never dared commit to paper. Somehow, my heart’s got hardened to the killing, the buzz of the flies and the awful smell of corrupted flesh; it’s the water gets me down. It soaks your boots, makes your puttees like flannels. It falls down in curtains, fills the air with damp cold, bites to my bones. Sometimes he’d been brave enough to commit a more candid word to a postscript, but mainly he dreamed of saying them face to face, over a pint of beer. I never imagined I’d fantasise about a dry shirt and socks.