Blood Brothersñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd
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Published by HarperCollinsPublishers 2010
Copyright © Josephine Cox 2010
Josephine Cox asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work
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This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.
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EBook Edition © FEBRUARY 2010 ISBN: 9780007353231
This book is for my Ken, as always
Writing is often a lonely thing, but I find great joy in being part of the story, where the characters are like family; some you love, some you fear, and some you see as being very close like a friend or relative.
When a book is finished and the characters are launched onto an unsuspecting world, you wonder how the story and its people might be received.
I am always humbled and deeply moved by the opinions of people who interview me and by the way the world seems to have taken my stories to heart.
The letters from readers are a joy, and I want to thank you lovely people of all ages and genders, who talk to me through their correspondence, and who live the stories through reading, as passionately as I live the stories when writing them.
I want to say thank you to all my readers, for taking the time to write to me in your thousands!
And to apologise for being late with my reply. You will always get one, I promise – love and best wishes to you all.
P.S. I look forward to meeting many of you at the planned event in the Spring.
Table of Contents
Also by Josephine Cox
About the Publisher
Bedfordshire – England
GENTLY CRADLING THE injured bird, he stood on the high ground, his quiet gaze drawn to the field below.
Up there, in the windswept heights, he cut a fine figure of a man. He was not broad of shoulder, nor thick with muscle, but there was something about him, a certain strength and solitude, and the tall, proud manner in which he stood.
He was a man of integrity. He knew when to speak his mind and when to keep his silence. He also knew when to walk away.
A year ago, he had done exactly that, yet against his better instincts, he had answered his brother’s letter and made his way back. Even now he felt uneasy in this familiar place, with his family less than a mile away, and Alice just a few steps from where he now stood.
It seemed he had been away forever. A year ago he left this haven to travel far and wide to search for a quietness of heart that might allow him to build a new life and move on. Yet all he ever found was loneliness.
Out here, in the wide open skies and with only the wild creatures for company, he was at home.
When he was away, this was what he missed. This…and a woman who was not his, and never could be.
Now that he was so close to home, he still wasn’t sure he had done the right thing. ‘It might have been better if I’d stayed away…’
Deep down he had always known it would not be easy, seeing her again. Yet now, here he was and she was just a heartbeat away. Thankfully, she had not yet seen him.
He whispered her name, ‘Alice.’ Her name was oddly comforting on his lips, ‘Alice.’
After a while he moved into the spinney where he kept watch, secure in the knowledge that she could not see him.
Discreetly, he continued to watch her through the branches of the ancient trees. He shared her joy as she raced across the field, her green skirt billowing in the breeze, her long chestnut-coloured hair playing over her shoulders. Behind her the lambs followed like children, calling and skipping as she led them, like a pied piper, down to the water’s edge.
His thoughtful brown eyes followed her every step. She was the reason he had turned his back on friends and family, and yet it was not her fault, for she had done nothing wrong.
While he was away he had come to realise that whatever he did, wherever he went, she would be there; like the blood that coursed through his veins.
He saw her now; small, strappy shoes clutched in one hand, her skirt held high as she paddled barefoot through the cool-running stream. He blinked at the sun in the skies; he felt the warmth on his face, and for one magic moment the world stood still.
Oblivious to his presence, she rested herself on a boulder, her two arms stretched out and her head back, as she raised her face to the heavens. She made no move to collect the hem of her skirt as it dipped into the water. Instead she stretched out her bare legs to let the cool, frothing water trickle over her skin.
When a stray lamb drew close enough to nuzzle her neck, she tenderly reached out to caress its tiny face.
In this green and glorious landscape, wrapped in silence and surrounded by nature’s beauty, she seemed at one with all creation.
For a fleeting moment, when she seemed to lift her gaze his way, he feared she had seen him, yet he made no move. In truth, he could not tear himself away. He had to see her, to fill his senses with her simple beauty. Little more than a year ago she had unknowingly opened his heart and crept inside, and now she was etched there for all time.
It pained him to realise that soon he must turn away and be gone from here. This time, never to return.
For now though, the moment, and the woman, were his. Up here, above the hubbub and maelstrom of ordinary life, time did not exist. It was just the two of them, and that was how it should be. She belonged only to him.
Content, he closed his eyes and let the feelings flow through him. He wished the world might stand still for this one, precious moment. Or maybe even forever.
The guilt was never far away: for his was a love both forbidden and wicked.
He spent every waking moment wanting her. She was the last thought on his mind when he went to sleep, and the first thought on his mind when he woke.
She had caused him such turmoil.
That was what she did to him.
Fearful, the injured bird fluttered in his arms, desperate to escape. ‘Ssh!’ He looked down into those piercing dark eyes that twinkled up at him. ‘She’s much like you,’ he whispered. ‘Wild as the wind; part of the earth itself.’
Acutely aware of the need to tend the bird’s injury, he was loath to tear himself away. So he lingered awhile, watching as she waded ankle-deep through the water and on to the far bank. Behind her, the lambs continued to graze on the moist grass.
‘She’s away to the farmhouse!’ Drawing the small creature nearer to his chest, he carefully folded its damaged wing into the palm of his hand. ‘We’d best make our way there too.’ He stroked its feathers with the tip of his thumb, ‘Let’s hope we can get you flying again.’
Carrying the bird gently he took the shortest route: down the hill and across the stream, carefully negotiating the stones and boulders as he went.
Soon he caught sight of Alice, running through the long grass, her voice lifted in song. It made him smile.
He continued on, to the farmhouse; the place where he grew up.
The place where he first met Alice.
The anger was like a fist inside him, ‘…yearning after a woman who’s already promised to your brother is a dangerous thing,’ he murmured.
Though what he felt for Alice was more than a yearning. It was a raging fire that, try as he might, he could not put out.
With the farmhouse in sight, he grew anxious; remembering why he was here. He was sobered by the knowledge that in just a few short days he would stand at the altar, where Alice and his brother would be pronounced man and wife.
It was a prospect he would rather not dwell on.
‘I wonder if he’s on his way?’
Bustling about in the cosy farmhouse kitchen, Nancy Arnold walked over to the window. A small, round woman of fifty years and more, she had the cheekiest, chubbiest face, pretty dark eyes wrinkled with laughter-lines, and a long thick plait of dark brown hair, lightly peppered with grey.
She was a woman of high standards; a woman who stood no nonsense and took no prisoners. Yet she was the kindest, most understanding woman on earth. When the neighbours suffered ill-health or encountered trouble she was the first to lend a helping hand. And when attending a merry occasion, she could outsing and outdance any man or woman; her manner and laughter was so infectious her husband Tom claimed she was shaking the ground with her terrible screeching! Her laughter filled his heart, and he loved her more with every passing year.
‘Stop wittering, woman!’ he grumbled at her now. ‘Sit yer busy backside down an’ give us a bit o’ quiet!’ Peering over his newspaper, he firmly chided. ‘Your son will be ‘ere when he gets ‘ere, and all yer fussing and fretting won’t get him here any the sooner!’ Having lived in the countryside all his life, Tom had learned to take things as they came.
‘Aw, Tom, I’m that worried.’
She turned to look at him. ‘We should have had word by now. The wedding’s on Saturday. It’s Monday already; less than a week to go, and we’ve heard not a whisper from him. What if he can’t get ‘ere? What if he’s had an accident on the way…oh dearie me!’
‘Hey!’ Crumpling the newspaper to his knee, Tom wagged a finger at her. ‘We’ll have none o’ that kind of talk! Why don’t yer make us a nice cup of tea, eh? Happen it’ll calm yer nerves.’
‘The only thing that’ll calm my nerves is the sight of our Joe coming through that door.’
‘Mebbe, but watching out for him every two minutes won’t bring him ‘ere any the quicker.’ With his large frame, thick, beard and piercing blue eyes, Tom Arnold was a man of fierce appearance, though like his wife, he had a soft heart.
In no time at all the kettle was whistling on the hob, and Nancy had brewed a pot of tea. She got out the tray, along with two mugs, into which she spooned a generous helping of sugar, then a drop of milk for Tom, and a good measure for herself. After that she took a small plate from the cupboard and sliding four ginger-snaps on to it, she rearranged the whole lot on the tray, before waddling over to the table. ‘There y’are then!’ She plonked the tray unceremoniously before him. ‘So, is there anything else you want?’
‘Nope, except for you to sit still. Yer making my nerves bad. First yer at the window, then yer at the door, then yer upstairs at the window again. Then yer ‘ere and now yer there, and soon yer off somewheres else. In and out, up and down, making me that dizzy I can’t settle to read my blessed paper. Why can’t you sit down, drink your tea and be patient?’
‘Don’t be like that.’ Already on her way to the window again, she looked at him in a way that usually melted his heart. But not this time. This time he was desperate to pick out his horses for today’s race. ‘I know I’m a fidget, but I can’t help it,’ she complained. ‘I’m on edge d’you see?’
She paused, feeling as though she had the weight of the world on her mind. ‘Tom?’
He groaned. ‘What now?’
‘I really am worried.’
‘Well you shouldn’t be!’ Frustrated, he rolled his eyes to heaven. ‘Like I said, our Joe will turn up. In any case, as long as he gets here before Saturday morning, it’ll be fine. Stop panicking, woman!’
‘It’s not just about Joe being late,’ she replied quietly. ‘There’s something else…’
‘Something else?’ Now, he was interested. ‘Come on then. Let’s have it!’
Nancy had not planned to say anything, but it was on her mind and she needed reassurance. ‘Has it never puzzled you why our Joe took off like he did,’ she asked. ‘I mean…one minute he was ‘ere, and then he were gone, just like that, without any explanation.’
‘I did wonder at the time, but I can’t say I’ve lost any sleep over it. Besides, young men are notoriously unpredictable, so don’t worry about it. Anyway, I’m sure he had his reasons.’
That was not good enough for Nancy. ‘The way I see it, if he could go off on a whim like that at the drop of a hat, without any explanation, who’s to say he’ll not have another whim and decide to stay away?’
‘Because his brother tracked him down a month back and asked him to be his best man, that’s why! Like I say, Joe won’t let his brother down, and well you know it.’
‘He didn’t write back straightaway though, did he? It was a whole month before Frank got a reply.’
‘Yes, but that’s only because like all other young men, Joe is not a letter writer.’
‘What if he doesn’t want to be best man at his brother’s wedding?’
‘Don’t be daft, woman!’ Tom put his newspaper aside. ‘What the devil’s got into you, Nancy?’
‘I just wondered, that’s all.’
Nancy shrugged her shoulders. ‘I’m not really sure. It’s just that when Joe left I got the feeling he was upset about something. You remember a couple of nights before he left, Joe was introduced to Alice? Oh, he smiled and gave her a kiss and everything seemed fine. Only, after that, he was too quiet for my liking.’
She recalled it only too well. ‘He hardly said two words over dinner, then he went to bed early.’
‘That’s because he’d been working out in the field all day, doing the work of three men. Me and the farmhand were away at the market with the calves, and as you recall, Frank had hurt his back. On top of that, it was the hottest day of summer. Joe was drenched with sweat and completely done-in when he finally got home. Frank was all excited because he’d brought Alice home and straightaway she was thrust under Joe’s nose. He was even made to welcome her with a kiss, and him being so shy an’ all!’ Tom gave a hearty chuckle, ‘I can’t say I’m surprised he had little to say for himself!’
‘But it wasn’t like Joe to be so quiet,’ Nancy insisted. ‘The following morning I got up early, determined to find out what was troubling him. When I came down, he was already packed and gone, leaving only a scrap of a letter by the kettle to say he was off to see the world.’
‘He wrote and put your mind at rest though, didn’t he?’ She shook her head. ‘He’s always put duty first before,’ Tom replied reassuringly.
‘From what I recall about his letter, Joe seemed happy enough,’ Tom reminded her. ‘He was making good money working the fairground, and he’d palled up with another lad. So, when the boss offered them the chance to go to Europe with the fair, they jumped at it!’ He chuckled. ‘I don’t mind telling yer…if I’d been offered the same chance when I were Joe’s age, I’d have been gone like a shot!’
‘So, you think the only reason he left was because he wanted to see the world?’ Nancy asked.
‘That’s exactly what I think, yes.’ Tom was not a natural liar, but he had to put Nancy’s mind to rest.
The last thing he wanted to do was alarm her with his own suspicions about why Joe left.
In fact his thoughts on the matter were so unsettling, he had never once shared them with Nancy.
Nancy was like a dog with a bone. ‘Are you sure he didn’t say anything to you?’ she persisted. ‘About why he was rushing away, or where he was headed?’
‘He said nothing to me, but like I’m telling you, it’s likely he wanted to see what the big wide world had to offer before he settled down.’
Tom thought of his own life and how his world had only ever been this farm, rented from the landowner by his grandfather and father before him. ‘I remember when I were twenty-five,’ he remarked thoughtfully. ‘I were still working the land morning ‘til night, seven days a week.’
‘Ah, yes, but that was then and this is now,’ Nancy reminded him. ‘Times change, don’t forget that.’
‘I’m not likely to, because here I am, an old man plagued with aching bones and a nagging wife. I’ve two grown sons: one of ‘em’s fled the nest, and the other’s straining at the leash to get wed. I’ve a heap o’ responsibility weighing me down, an’ after all these years hard work, I haven’t even managed to buy a house to call our own!’
Nancy was taken aback by his outburst. ‘In all the years we’ve been married, I’ve never once heard you talk like that.’ It worried her. ‘Are you saying you regret your life?’
‘Absolutely not!’ Giving her a reassuring wink, Tom reached out and kissed her on the mouth, before revealing sincerely, ‘I don’t regret a single minute of it, and as for you and my boys, you are my life. That’s what it’s all been about and still is. And there isn’t a day passes that I don’t give thanks.’
Feeling emotional, Nancy told him passionately, ‘You’re such a good man, Tom.’ She gave him a look that only a woman in love could give. ‘Since you first asked me to dance at the village hall, I felt proud to be with you. I always will.’
‘Thank you, sweetheart.’ He smiled into those pretty brown eyes. ‘I’m proud of you an’ all, and I’m proud of our two sons. Different though they may be, they’re both good, fine fellows.’
‘Tom?’ There was something else playing on her mind.
‘What now, sweetheart?’ He so wanted to get back to his horses.
‘Don’t take this the wrong way, but I was wondering, what d’you think to Alice? Do you really think her and Frank will be happy together?’
‘Mmm…’ He chose his words carefully. ‘If I’m honest, I reckon she might be a bit young. She’s not yet twenty, and Frank is nearly seven years older. That said, she thinks the world of our Frank, and he adores her. So what do a few years matter, eh?’
‘So, you really think she’s the right one for our son?’
Remembering what he had witnessed that night a year ago, Tom chose his words carefully. ‘Well now, I don’t have a crystal ball, but I would say Alice has the true makings of a farmer’s wife.’
He paused, remembering how calm and helpful Alice had been when they had had a bad incident with a month-old foal. ‘D’you recall how that young postman ran to tell us how Alice was in trouble and needed help? Youngsters from the town had smashed part of the fence down at the far field, and one of the foals had got caught up in it?’
Nancy recalled it vividly. ‘Its mother was running crazy, and wouldn’t let anyone near.’
He reminded her, ‘I reckon that mad mare would have killed anyone who went near her young ‘un. The vet couldn’t get anywhere near until Alice calmed the mare long enough for him to tend the foal.’
Nancy remembered it well. ‘She’s certainly got a way with animals. She’s not afraid of hard work neither. All in all, I think you’re right. Young Alice will fit in with the family very nicely.’
She added reluctantly, ‘I’m not sure Joe approves of her though.’
Tom was surprised. ‘What put that idea into yer head?’
‘I might be wrong,’ she replied thoughtfully, ‘only I got the feeling that he would rather she wasn’t here, that’s all.’
Tom was quick to dispel her fears. ‘Honestly, Nancy. Fancy thinking our Joe would take a dislike to a girl who wouldn’t harm a fly! I expect he had his head so full of adventure, he didn’t even notice her!’
Nancy seemed relieved. ‘Yes, that must have been it. Forget what I said.’
Tom watched her as she ambled across the room. Leaning her elbows on the window sill, she gave a soft laugh. ‘Hey! Wouldn’t it be something if he turned up with a girl on his arm?’
‘I shouldn’t think our Joe will bring a woman home just yet,’ he told Nancy now. He then muttered under his breath, ‘Why would he do that, when the girl he fancies is right here?’
Tom had long suspected that was why Joe had gone away: because he had fallen for his brother’s woman, and he couldn’t deal with it. Neither could Tom, for it was a terrible, shameful thing.
All the same, Tom understood how sometimes love grabs you when you least expect it, and no one could control who they fall in love with.
He didn’t blame Joe. He didn’t blame anyone; though he had secretly admired his son for doing the right thing in putting a distance between himself and Alice.
He felt a sense of unease. ‘I hope to God our Joe’s over her. If not, it could really put the cat among the pigeons!’ he whispered to himself.
‘What was that you said?’ Nancy swung round.
‘What?’ Pretending he was deep in his newspaper, Tom looked up, ‘I didn’t say anything!’ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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