Previously published as Shattered Dreams
Captain Blair Sinclair returns from the trenches of World War 1 suffering amnesia, and mistakes Lauren (Laurie) Cunningham for his fiancée.
When his real fiancée turns up his memory returns, and Laurie is banished for being an imposter.
Pregnant and desperate to hide the shame of having Blair’s baby out of wedlock, she marries Dick McKinlay. He needs a wife to hide his own dreadful secret.
Dick is tried for a murder he did not commit. Will Laurie reveal both their secrets to save him from the hangman?
"I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The story is well-written and the characters fully fleshed out. I fell in love with Laurie from the first page. What I liked best about the book was the way the author tied up all the loose ends in the ending. I've never read anything set during the Great War, and I found the history fascinating. I highly recommend this book." ~ 4 Stars, Vlvm, Amazon Reader and Verified Purchase
“Come on, Laurie, let's go for a walk, I've got something important to tell you.” Danny Williamson's white teeth flashed against his tanned cheeks as he swept off his hat and dropped it on the shop counter. His excitement was tangible, his eyes glowed, and his face was practically slashed in two, his grin stretched so wide.
“I don't know,” Laurie answered cautiously, remembering her father's tirade from yesterday about the wild company Danny had been keeping.
“Please, Laurie, I want you to be the first to know. Uncle Alf doesn't even know yet.”
Staring into his brown eyes she was dismayed to see the look of expectancy and excitement beginning to fade.
“All right, just a minute. Dad, would you look after things here for me? Danny wants me to go for a walk with him.”
Matthew Cunningham bustled through the curtain separating the shop from their private residence. He glared at the young man who lounged against the counter. “What are you doing here? Haven’t you got anything better to do?”
“No.” Danny stood stiff-legged with his feet apart, but Laurie knew that his sudden belligerent stance covered up some inner turmoil. “I've got something private to tell Laurie.”
“Please, Dad,” she implored, willing her father to let her go. “It's important, isn't it?”
“All right.” Matthew gave them a suspicious stare. “Remember what I told you. You're seventeen now and should start acting like a young lady.”
“Good afternoon, Mr. Cunningham.” Danny smirked as he picked up his hat before following Laurie out of the general store.
“Why do you keep on goading my father?”
“He asks for it.” A scowl marred his boyish good looks “Doesn't like me, thinks I'm not good enough to be seen with his precious daughter.”
“Don't say that.” She touched his arm, but withdrew it as they passed old Miss Munro dressed in her habitual long black coat and matching velvet hat.
“Silly old cow,” Danny said. “It will be all over town in five minutes about us touching in public. Wonder what the old biddy would say if I'd been kissing you?”
Laurie’s cheeks burned with embarrassment. “Danny, please, Dad says people have been talking about us. I have to be more ladylike from now on.” She tugged agitatedly at one of her long auburn curls.
As they made their way to the creek, a weak August sun tried to part the clouds. When they came to the bridge they stopped. Danny stood with his back pressed up hard against the rail, his feet apart, while she leaned on propped elbows staring down into the fast-flowing water.
He shocked her by saying. “You're beautiful, the only person in the world I care about.”
She edged closer to him. He was a good eight inches taller than her five feet two inches. Slim but muscular, his skin gleamed like polished teak from working out in the open so much.
“I love you.” A calloused brown hand covered her soft white one.
When she recovered from the shock, the only words she could murmur were, “Do you?” This was a different Danny from the boy she had grown up with, who had taught her to climb trees and ride as well as any man. She had flirted with him now and again, made him jealous by feigning interest in Wally Bryson, or goaded him into losing his temper sometimes.
“I've joined up, Laurie.”
“Joined up? You didn't!” Oh, he might get killed! Her mouth dried up and her heart felt as if it were being squeezed in a vice
“Yes, I did.”
“Why? You're only eighteen. Is it because I let Wally walk me home from the church social?”
“No. I just wanted some excitement, a chance to travel.” He punched the rail with a clenched fist. “I want to get away from Uncle Alf, the miserable old bastard. This is an opportunity for me to make something of myself. To save up so we can get married. I love you.” He kissed her fiercely.
She returned his kisses, liking the feel of his lips moving against hers. When his tongue started a probing exploration of her mouth, she trembled but clung to him just the same.
As soon as he lifted his mouth away, she pleaded with him. “Don't go. I couldn’t bear it if something happened to you.”
“Don't be silly,” he scoffed. “I'll be all right. Let's go to our secret place for one last time.”
“All right.” She slipped her hand into his.
“You'll have to write. I won't be much good at answering, though. I've joined the Australian Imperial Force with Wally and Jim Bryson. We're leaving on the evening train for Melbourne.”
“Of course I'll write. You will be back again? I mean, before you go overseas?” She shuddered and her limbs turned icy cold. She literally felt the warmth draining out of them. The papers had been full of it, England declaring war on Germany and the Australian Government pledging its support to the mother country. To the last man and the last shilling, the Prime Minister had vowed.
They ambled along following the course of the creek, and Danny's fingers tightened on hers every now and again. She knew they were heading for a small cave a mile or so up from the bridge. It was so well hidden no one else had ever discovered it.
When she was about thirteen, she remembered camping overnight here with him. The excitement of doing something so daring had been ruined by the specter of her father somehow finding out. She didn’t venture there again at night, but after a row with his uncle, Danny often stayed there to save himself from one of Alf’s vicious thrashings.
The cave had become so overgrown she couldn’t find the entrance, but Danny let go her hand and shoved the thick spiky bushes aside, holding them with his body so they would not spring back and scratch her.
She inched her way in, as the ground was rough underfoot. After venturing a short distance into the hillside, the cave opened up into what was almost a room of solid rock. Light filtered in from somewhere high above them, and she craned her neck to catch a glimpse of the sky.
She jumped when he came up close, knowing full well they should not be alone together like this. If anyone ever found out her reputation would be ruined. Fear shivered all the way through her.
“What's wrong?” His warm breath caressed her cheek. “Are you cold?”
“I can warm you up.” He gave a soft intimate laugh.
“Don't be.” He put his arms around her. “You're my girl, aren't you?”
“You do love me, don't you?”
“Yes.” His mouth closed over hers. This kiss was different from any others they had shared. Fiercer, more desperate. He moved his tongue inside her mouth, probing, exploring. When she entwined her tongue with his he moaned and trembled. His hand slid up to cup her breast. An unfamiliar fluttering sensation stirred deep within her stomach, butterfly soft at first but gaining momentum. Only when his fingers started pulling and squeezing did she try to push him away.
“Please, I mightn't see you for ages. Let me touch you. I love you so much. I’d never hurt you.”
He moved his body frantically against hers and she was shocked at what she felt. Things had never reached this stage before.
“We should go home.” Her voice rose with agitation.
Copyright (C) 2012 Margaret Tanner