A new century brings change to the carefully ordered world Eden Harris maintains, change that threatens all she holds dear. Despite years of devoted service to the Bradburys, the leading family of the community, Eden hides a secret that would affect them all. When an enemy returns, her world is shattered and her secret exposed. Torn and provoked, she strains to protect her family until a devastating accident leaves her alone and frightened. As the threat against her grows, Eden takes her precious daughters and flees from the only place she's called home, to live amongst masses in York. Her attempt to start anew is not so simple as the past haunts her, and the one man she thought lost to her so many years before, returns to claim what has always been his. Eden must gather her strength and look into her heart to accept what the future offers. Can she find the happiness she longs for?
Joel rested his body against the ship’s rail, bracing himself for the slightest pain in his shoulder. With one arm in a sling tucked beneath his uniform jacket, he was careful to keep out of the way of people. The slightest touch could have him sweating in pain. The sea breeze lifted the hair on his forehead and neck, cooling him slightly. He needed a haircut, but he’d wait until he’d reach England before attending to that.
Below him on the deck, he watched the crowds scurrying about like ants. Soldiers, nurses, travellers, ship crew, dock workers all hurried back and forth. Behind him, from within the ship, came the noise of eager travellers settling in for their ocean journey.
He stared out into the distance, where Table Mountain dominated the view. He was sad to be leaving Africa. He’d come to think of it as home in a way. The sights and sounds, the heat and people were familiar now. Of course nothing competed against Bradbury Hall, but he’d been in Africa for seven years. It was a long time. The army had replaced his family. He’d learnt to rely on his fellow officers to ease the loneliness, and at first it had worked well. The adventure and excitement kept his mind from thinking of home. But lately, for the last year and a half, a yearning to return home had claimed him and not let go.
The ships funnels belched smoke and the boarding siren wailed. Under his feet he felt the deck shudder as the enormous engines surged with power. Anticipation welled. He was going home. Despite the ache in his shoulder, he smiled. Time to start a new phase of his life. Time to reaffirm the links with his family, the estate, old friends, and… Eden.
He was conscious of the changes awaiting him back home. Much had happened in his absence. Not long after he joined the regiment, his mother died. That had been a blow, but on the whole he had managed to keep the family and home intact in his mind. When he’d left England, his father had been alive, Charlie well, Annabella cheeky, pretty, naive and Eden… Eden had been beautiful, a free spirit of the woodland where she lived.
What awaited him now?
The ship eased from its berth and glided out into the harbour. The breeze sharpened and Joel turned away from the rail. He glanced at a crippled solider standing near the door leading into one of the saloons. The soldier swayed on his crutches, one leg gone in battle.
Joel checked his step and hurried over to steady the man with his good arm.
“Thanks, Sir.” The solider smiled.
“Stevens, isn’t it?” Joel mused, helping the man to lean against a wall and out of the way of other passengers.
“Stevenson, Sir, Corporal Dave Stevenson.” He leaned against the support and breathed out slowly. “I still haven’t got the hang of these things yet.” He held up the crutches.
Joel grinned. “I think it might be an art that takes practice, Corporal.”
Dave took of his hat and wiped the seat off from his forehead, his fair hair stuck to his head. “Do you mind, Sir, if I sit down? This leg isn’t used to holding all the weight and gets a bit shaky, like.”
“Of course, man, sit.” Joel again aided Stevenson in lowering to the deck. There were no chairs about and after a moment’s hesitation, Joel join him and gently eased his backside down, careful not to jar his shoulder. “We should have gone inside, it would be more comfortable.”
“Sorry, Sir, but I’m no sailor. Once inside my stomach has a mind of its own. I’m better out here.”
“Well, I’ll keep you company for a while until dinner is announced. My stomach is the opposite of yours. Once on the ocean I’m always ravenous. I do nothing but eat.”
“You might struggle with a knife and fork, using only one hand.”
Joel chuckled. “Yes, true. So far I’ve had only soup and sandwiches.”
Stevenson laid his crutches beside his good leg and gazed out through the iron rail. “So, we’re going back home to England. I’ve been away three years. I should be happy to be going back, but I’m not as excited as I should be, I don’t think.”
“It affects men in different ways.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, Sir, how do you feel? Was your clipped wing the reason for you to go home?”
“Yes. My shoulder stopped a bullet.” He glanced down at his padded and bandaged left shoulder. “Normally they’d take it out and I’d be back in the mix of things, but this Boer bullet went in at an angle and wedge itself deep. The surgeon managed to get it out, but he wasn’t sure what damaged had been done. Only once the swelling has gone down and the soreness gone, will I know what strength remains in the arm.”
“Does your family know about it yet?”
“No, not yet. It didn’t seem worth writing when I was going home anyway. What about your family?”
“Oh aye, they know. I’ve been in hospital a while, long enough for letters to go back and forth.” Stevenson bent up his leg and rested his elbow on it. “They say they don’t care if I come home missing a leg, as long as I’m coming home to them. I’m an only child see, and I used to help my father run our grocers shop.”
“Will you do that again?”
“I guess so. Funny how things change, isn’t it. I hated working in that shop as a lad. All my friends would be out playing football or cricket and I’d be stuck behind a counter. The first opportunity I got to leave I took, and that was the army.” He tapped the toe of his boot on the deck. “Now, I can’t wait to get back there. I miss me mam and dad, and me gran, who lives with us. My mam makes the best jam roly-poly you’ve ever tasted. Dad brews his own beer in the back shed and Gran used to be my partner in cards.”
“There’s nothing better in this world than returning home to a family that loves you.” A picture came into Joel’s mind of the estate in autumn, the tall graceful trees, their leaves turning gold and amber, the squirrels scurrying around in the wood, collecting the last of their booty, harvest time and bringing in the hay, the smell of open fires as the gardeners raked up and burnt the fallen leaves.
He leaned his head back and smiled in remembrance. “I long to go riding with my brother. We used to ride for miles. Sometimes we’d stop at a pub and have an ale and a hot pie smothered in gravy.”
“Me mam has written of a neighbour’s daughter, Vera, who she hopes I’ll one day marry. I’m not so sure what Vera has to say about it though. We got along all right before I went away, but…well, I’m not as I once was.”
“If this Vera is a decent woman, she’ll not mind.”
“Maybe.” Stevenson lifted his face to the breeze. “Will you have a girl waiting for you at home, Sir?”
Joel’s stomach clenched. “Perhaps. I’m ready for a family. However, I’ve been away longer than you, and I’m not sure what to expect when I arrive home.”
“None of us are, Sir, none of us are.”
A group of children ran by, the shoes thundering on the timber deck. One cheeky boy paused and waved to Joel and Stevenson before scampering off again. A harassed nanny tried to catch up as she wheeled a pram after them. Joel watched until they turned a corner at the bow of the ship and were out of sight. His heart constricted, thinking of the boy’s lively face. A son. He wanted a son so badly it hurt. A boy to teach all the things his father taught him, to hunt, to fish, to ride, to play sports. He thought of Charlie. Two sons perhaps. Two fine boys to grow up together like he and Charlie did.
Emotion clogged his throat and he coughed to clear it. He’d been away from home too long…
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