Michael Gray returned from World War One injured, but at least he returned. Others were not so fortunate, including his first and greatest love, Thomas Carter-Clemence, with whom Michael had parted bitterly before the conflict began.
Broch, the Carter-Clemence home in Porthkennack, was an integral part of pre-war holidays for the Grays, the two families drawn together in the wake of their sons’ friendship. Returning to the once-beloved Cornish coast for a break with his sister and her family, Michael has to find the courage to face old memories . . . and dare new relationships.
When Thomas’s brother Harry makes an unexpected appearance, Michael is surprised to find himself deeply attracted to Harry for his own sake. But as their relationship heats up, it unearths startling revelations and bitter truths. Michael must decide whether Harry is the answer to his prayers or the last straw to break an old soldier’s back.
“Count the shells, please, Uncle Michael.”
“As you’ve asked so nicely, Richard, I will. Un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq.” Michael Gray smiled indulgently at his nephew as he laid down each limpet shell in turn. He picked them up to lay them down again, one by one. “Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco.”
Richard Cavendish scooped them into a pile, dropping them into Michael’s hands with a plea for him to count again. Nothing changed; children throughout time must have enjoyed repetition of their favourite things. Michael tipped his hat forward, shading his eyes against a sun that was beating fiercely down on the beach and performing dazzling dances on the sea. He’d always loved the beaches on the Porthkennack headland, since he could first remember coming here as no more than a toddler. This area had always been a place of refuge, of comfort, of hope.
“Uncle?” Richard tapped his arm.
“Sorry, old man. I was woolgathering. Where was I? Yan, tan, tethera, pethera, pimp.” He laid the last shell down with a flourish of his hand, like a conjuror performing a trick.
Richard burst into giggles. He always liked the sheep-counting style best of all the ones Michael used. “Again, please.”
“Yan, tan, tethera, pethera, pimp.” Michael, stifling a yawn, spoke the words slowly and pompously this time, lining up the shells like a colonel inspecting his troops. The mewing of gulls, the susurration of the waves—he’d almost forgotten how soporific sounds of the seaside could be.
“Are you tired, Uncle Michael? Is it your leg?” Richard was the only one in the family who referred casually to his wound, with a child’s typical candour.
“No, the leg’s fine.” He’d come out of things a lot better off than many of his comrades. The thing functioned pretty well, despite being pockmarked where they’d taken all the shrapnel out, although his foot looked a mess where the little toe had gone. He couldn’t—and wouldn’t—complain. “Simply the effect of the local beer I had last night, making me a bit sluggish. Don’t tell your mother.”
“I promise I won’t.” Richard put his hand on his heart while making the vow. “Will you do the ‘Einz vie’ one?”
“Eins, zwei,” Michael replied, automatically. He’d known this was going to happen, and he couldn’t refuse the request, not without having to tell a lie about why it upset him. Just saying he couldn’t use the language of his once-enemy wasn’t enough; it wasn’t true, anyway. The words had acquired new connotations in his mind, over the years, connotations Richard might never understand.
Michael collected all the shells, took a deep breath, then began to lay them down one by one.
Number one was Thomas. Thomas Carter-Clemence. Eins. One. The first. Never to be forgotten, even after they’d parted in such a dramatic fashion, with the mother of all rows, the spring of 1909.
That would be Laurence; Laurie, as Michael had preferred to call him, especially in the heat of passion, when “Laurence” seemed so ridiculously formal. Simple remembrance of those times brought a prickle to the back of Michael’s neck.
Jimmy. No, not him; Jimmy hadn’t been the third. Michael had forgotten Freddie.
Freddie was third. Or maybe third and fifth, because he’d been an extra station on the line of romance when Michael and Laurence had suffered a temporary estrangement. A station which had been passed through and left behind when Michael and Laurence had made things up again, then revisited when their paths had crossed years later. He had no idea where Freddie was now, couldn’t begin to say whether he was alive or dead, or whether he remembered that fleeting, if chilly, night by the river at Maidenhead or the equally fleeting, if warmer, encounter in Brighton.
To celebrate the release of Count the Shells, one lucky winner will receive a goodie bag from Charlie Cochrane, including postcards (new and vintage), a recipe book, bookmark, pencils, a fridge magnet and various other doodahs! Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on October 21, 2017. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Thanks for following the tour, and don’t forget to leave your contact info!
About the Author & Links:
As Charlie Cochrane couldn’t be trusted to do any of her jobs of choice—like managing a rugby team—she writes, with titles published by Carina, Samhain, Bold Strokes, MLR and Cheyenne.
Charlie’s Cambridge Fellows Series of Edwardian romantic mysteries was instrumental in her being named Author of the Year 2009 by the review site Speak Its Name. She’s a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Mystery People, International Thriller Writers Inc and is on the organising team for UK Meet for readers/writers of GLBT fiction. She regularly appears with The Deadly Dames.