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Cathie gave a squeal of joy as she read the letter that had arrived that morning. ‘Alex is coming home,’ she cried. She’d waited so long for this news she couldn’t quite believe it. It must be nearly two years since she’d last seen her fiancé and now the war was over he’d be home for good, at last. She quickly scanned the letter again to make sure she’d read it correctly. ‘He says he hopes to be home by Christmas.’

There was no one to hear her exciting news except for the baby, bouncing up and down on her chubby little legs in her cot, holding fast to the rail and giving a happy gurgle as if to echo Cathie’s delight.

Gathering the child in her arms, Cathie screwed up her nose and chuckled. ‘I think you need changing, sweetie.’ But even as she smiled into the baby’s soft blue eyes, her own filled with tears. ‘Oh, I do wish your mummy was here, and your daddy, of course. It’s so desperately sad that you’ll never get to know or love them. I shall tell you all about them as you grow, of course. Particularly Sally, my dear sister, who loved you so much, and was very much a part of my life.’

At least a baby did not experience the pain of grief that she had suffered, Cathie thought as she laid the infant on a towel-covered table to strip off the wet nappy and set about cleaning her plump little bottom.

What a dreadful war it had been. First her sister had lost her beloved husband, who’d gone down with his ship in August 1944 when it had been sunk by a U-boat. Tony had never even learned his wife was pregnant, let alone seen his child. As if that wasn’t bad enough, in late February this year, barely a month after the birth of her beautiful daughter, Sal herself suffered a fatal injury in a bus crash. Still enveloped in grief, she’d felt in desperate need of an afternoon out, and had gone with her friend Rose to the Gaumont Cinema on Oxford Road to see Judy Garland in Meet Me in St Louis. Cathie might well have accompanied them, but somebody needed to stay home and look after the baby, and she’d happily volunteered for the task as she hoped the film might lift her sister’s depression.

On their way home the driver had lost control on the icy roads and the bus tipped into an old bomb crater. The effects of war could be devastating and so long lasting.

The sad irony was that they’d come close to death many times during this last six years with constant air raids on the nearby railway, warehouses, wharfs and canals, and once when their own house had been bombed. A terrifying incident that Cathie strived to shut from her mind. Now the pain resonated afresh as, staring out of the window, she watched two young women walking arm-in-arm past the bomb-damaged houses opposite, laughing and chattering. The pair reminded her so much of how she and Sal used to step out together.

Cathie stopped this train of thought in mid-track. To lose her beloved sister was bad enough, but for it to happen just as the war was coming to an end was even more heartbreaking. Sal’s death had left a huge hole in her life that nothing and no one could ever fill. It felt as if a part of her too had died, as well as their family having been decimated.

Blinking back tears as she smoothed baby talc over the soft skin and began to pin on a fresh nappy, Cathie’s heart was swamped with love and pity for her niece. With scarcely any family left what kind of future could this little one be facing?

Not that they’d had much of a family to begin with, their father having left home while both girls were young. And their mother, Rona, was not an easy woman. Cathie felt she’d endured a dreadful childhood: a selfish mother with a string of lovers and an absentee father whom she hadn’t seen in years. She certainly had no wish for little Heather to suffer a similar fate. And who else was there to care for the poor child but herself, a responsibility she’d accepted without question.

Breathing in the sweet scent of her as she cuddled the baby in her arms and kissed her soft cheek, Cathie murmured, ‘You were so loved by your mummy, and if Sal were still with us, she’d be celebrating Alex’s return along with me, despite having lost your lovely father. I promise that you will never feel unwanted, sweetie, even if there are only a few of us left. The war is over and it’s time for a fresh start.’

Cathie was only too aware that were it not for having to care for the baby, she might not have found the will to carry on, or even get up in a morning. She’d needed to locate a nursery, of course, to look after the child during the day, as she couldn’t afford to give up her job at the tyre factory down by the docks. She’d also queued at the Citizen’s Advice Bureau for hours, to ask them if she was entitled to extra clothing coupons for the baby. They’d agreed that she was, and had told her to ask for form CRSC/1. All such a fuss, but money was tight and Cathie had very little in the way of savings at the post office.

There was a tidy sum stashed away in an account left by dear Sally and her husband, but that was for their precious daughter when she grew up, not to be wasted on trivial bits and bobs now. Nevertheless, for little Heather’s sake, and to celebrate Alex’s homecoming, Cathie fully intended to make this the best Christmas ever.

‘It may only be October but Christmas will be here before you know it, which means I must start shopping and preparing right away, as rationing makes everything so difficult,’ she told her giggling niece as she popped her safely back in her cot. Oh, but she couldn’t wait to welcome Alex home, and to be in his arms again.

As she warmed some milk for the baby’s morning porridge, Cathie kept glancing across at the letter, her heart radiating with hope and pride. She’d loved Alex Ryman ever since she’d first met him over three years ago, back in nineteen forty-two.

One Saturday, as Sal’s husband Tony had been home on leave, they’d treated themselves to a night at The Palais. It wasn’t cheap, being ninepence a ticket, but it proved to be worth the expense when this gorgeous man had approached her to ask for a dance.

‘I couldn’t take my eyes off you. You are so lovely with your long curly red hair, that smattering of freckles on your cute little nose, and the sweetest smile,’ he’d told her.

Cathie had flushed with pleasure at the compliment, never for a moment having thought of herself in those terms. ‘Not strictly red, more a strawberry blonde,’ she’d corrected him, with a smile more shy than sweet, or so she thought.

‘Still beautiful, however you describe it, as are your hazel eyes. I’m not the greatest dancer in the world, but please would you do me the honour?’

‘I’d be delighted,’ and taking his hand she’d allowed him to lead her out on to the dance floor. Admittedly Alex, as he’d quickly introduced himself, wasn’t classically handsome with his crop of short brown hair, square jutting chin and somewhat gangling body, but she’d been entranced by his gentlemanly behaviour, his quiet conservative manner, and the respect he’d shown her.

By the end of the evening, having danced almost every dance with him, Cathie happily accepted an offer of a date. After he returned to base, they’d exchanged letters almost daily. And as at that time he was stationed at Squires Gate, Blackpool, which before the war had been a Holiday camp but was now used for army training, she’d seen him quite frequently, whenever he had a few days leave. Best of all Cathie recalled the week’s leave he’d been granted after further months of training in Silloth, before being sent overseas in nineteen forty-three. He’d bought her a ring, and she’d been thrilled to accept his proposal. Sadly, she hadn’t seen him since, nor received quite as many letters as she would have liked, but then he’d been stationed in Egypt, and goodness knows where else. Now he was coming home for good and she could hardly wait to become his wife.

Cathie’s newfound happiness was very slightly curtailed as she considered what her fiancé’s reaction might be to the fact that this little one now occupied a large place in her heart too. She certainly had every intention of keeping her. Didn’t she owe it to her lovely sister?

But Alex had no doubt lost friends and loved ones too, maybe suffered injuries in battles and campaigns he’d been involved in. So surely he would understand that you had to live with the consequences of whatever such a dreadful war had thrown at you, Cathie was quite certain he would come to love her little niece as much as she did.

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Christmas is approaching and Cathie Morgan is awaiting the return of her beloved fiancé, Alexander Ramsay. But she has a secret that she’s anxious to share with him. One that could change everything between them. Her sister has died and she wants to adopt her son.

When the truth is finally revealed, Alex immediately calls off the wedding, claiming that the baby is actually Cathie’s, causing all of Cathie’s fears to be realised.

As Cathie battles to reassure Alex of her fidelity, she must also juggle the care of the baby and their home.

But then Alex crosses the line with a deceit that is unforgivable, leaving Cathie to muster the courage to forge a life for her and her nephew alone.

Will Cathie ever be able to trust another man again and as peace begins to settle will she ever be able to call a house a home…

Home is Where the Heart is

£6.99 paperback


Also available as an ebook

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