I’m delighted to be on the blog tour for Wartime Brides & Wedding Cakes today and to be able to share an extract from the book with you.
I loved Heartaches & Christmas Cakes and very much look forward to reading this sequel.
Wartime Brides & Wedding Cakes is available to buy in ebook and paperback here.
Before I share my extract with you here is a little bit more about the book.
January, 1941: As Charlie Barton tiptoes silently out of the house one cold winter morning to go off and fight for his country, his wife Audrey is left to run the family bakery on her own.
Times are tougher than ever, but at the Barton Bakery in Bournemouth, Audrey is determined as always to serve the town with love, loaves and cakes, even as the town is reeling from the struggles of the Blitz.
Audrey’s brother William has returned from battle with serious wounds. His fiancé Elsie is waiting for wedding bells, but William is a changed man, and will her hopes be in vain?
Bakery helper Maggie has her heart set on dashing officer George. But will George still want to marry her when he discovers the truth about her family?
And Lily, Audrey’s stepsister, is struggling to raise her illegitimate baby and facing judgement from many in the town. The man who broke her heart returns with an offer, and Lily faces a hard decision about where her future lies.
When disaster strikes the bakery, Audrey fears that everything she has worked for may be ruined. With her shop threatened and her family in turmoil, can she fight to save everything she holds dear?
Wartime Brides and Wedding Cakes is a romantic and heart-warming tale of cakes and confetti, perfect for fans of Sheila Newberry, Nadine Dorries and Ellie Dean.
Audrey Barton was fast asleep when her husband, Charlie, left. Kitbag slung over his shoulder, he carefully closed the bakery door behind him, quietly slipping from one life into another. The ink-blue sky peppered with stars,Audrey hadn’t stirred when he’d dressed, silently, in the darkness, tying the laces of his heavy leather boots with trembling hands. She had slept on under the rose-print eiderdown, as he propped a handwritten note on the dressing table, glancing back at her dark blonde hair fanned on the pillow and breathing in the fragrance of her Pond’s face cream, locking his wife’s image into his heart.
I can’t say goodbye, he had written.
When Audrey had awoken before dawn that freezing cold morning, to join Charlie in the bakehouse as she did every day, she discovered the note. Pulling her nightgown closer to her body, shivering slightly, she bit down hard on her bottom lip, quickly unfolding the paper to read his troubling words.
‘Charlie Barton!’ she cried, screwing up the note and hurling it across the room. Clenching her jaw and blinking away tears, she quickly processed what he had done. Of course, she knew he was joining up. He’d wanted to join the British Expeditionary Force since Britain declared war against Germany in September 1939, but because he was a baker, his occupation was ‘reserved’, and so he had food production duties at home. After fifteen grim months of war and in the midst of the Blitz, unimaginable calamity across the country and with millions of people’s lives in peril, Charlie had eventually persuaded the authorities to let him enlist, on the proviso that the bakery could continue to run without him. Yes, Audrey knew he was leaving, but he hadn’t told her when. She had planned on organising him a farewell meal with his favourite dishes, herring plate pie and marrow surprise, and on packing him up with all the comforts she could think of: knitted socks, gloves, long johns, balaclava helmet and a gingerbread cake for sustenance.
A kiss at the very least.
‘How could you?’ she muttered, dashing to the window, the gnarled floorboards creaking underfoot. She lifted up the blackout blind and threw open the window, leaning out into the bitingly cold January air, to peer up and down Fisherman’s Road, the street in East Bournemouth where they lived. There was nobody in sight. Whereas once the lamplighter would have been putting out the gas lamps, at this hour, to make way for dawn, the blackout meant the only light was provided by a sliver of moon hanging in the sky like a fingernail clipping, shining onto the deserted, snow-covered street.
Audrey spotted a trail of Charlie-sized footprints in the snow, leading away from the bakery, continuing past the butcher’s and the post office, their blackout blinds still closed. He had gone. Audrey didn’t cry easily, but thismorning, she wept.
‘Oh Charlie,’ she said to nobody, her voice quavering. ‘What kind of husband leaves his wife without saying goodbye? Goodbye might be all we have.’
Tears streamed uncontrollably down her cheeks as her thoughts flew to the argument they’d had the previous night. Heavens, she knew not to go to bed on an argument, yet that’s exactly what she’d done. It had blown up out of nowhere when Audrey had been getting Mary, the eight-year-old evacuee girl billeted with them, ready for bed.
‘Your hair is so soft,’ Audrey had said, brushing the little girl’s hair while sitting in front of the roaring fire, where a line of woollen stockings and gloves dried in the heat from the crackling flames. ‘It feels like rabbit’s ears, or butterfly wings, or the softest velvet you can imagine. Mary, I do believe you have the hair of a princess. You’re a special girl, do you know that?’
She’d noticed Charlie’s face dark as a thundercloud when he’d walked past, heading down to the bakehouse to knock back and prove the dough for the next day’s bread, but it wasn’t until Mary was tucked up in bed and Audrey was elbow-deep in washing up the crockery that he told her what was on his mind.
‘You shouldn’t fill the girl’s head with such fanciful rot,’ he had said, his muscular arms folded across his chest. ‘You’re setting her up for another fall. She’s not a princess but a kiddie with more problems on her shoulders than Winston Churchill. Her brother’s dead, her mother topped herself, she’s got no home to go to and her father’s fighting on the front line, if he’s even alive. Mary needs toughening up, not softening up.’
Audrey had stopped pot washing and stared for a moment at the shelves in front of her. The jewel-coloured bottles and jars of rosehip syrup, pickled cucumbers, apple chutney and carrot jam she’d made in the summer months in preparation for winter blurred in front of her eyes. Placing the dishcloth down on the Belfast sink, she had turned to face her husband, hands on her hips.
‘That girl has seen enough sadness to last her two lifetimes,’ she said coolly. ‘I will do everything in my power to raise a smile on her sorry little face and give her a taste of what childhood should be. There can be no denyingthat the horrors she’s seen are unimaginable to us, Charlie.’
‘Not for long,’ he had challenged, raising his chin. ‘I’ll be going out to the front line with my eyes wide open. I’m prepared for anything, nothing can shock me.’
Suddenly weary, Audrey shook her head. ‘I don’t know what’s got into you, Charlie Barton,’ she said, ‘but the man I married was not bloodthirsty, or begging for a fight. You should open your eyes to what’s around you. Folk are managing to put a smile on their faces, like a sticking plaster, but families are being pulled apart; husbands, sons and brothers dead before they’ve even started their lives. Millions of children just like Mary have been evacuated hundreds of miles away from home, not knowing if they’ll see their parents again. What the world needs is more simple kindliness and common humanity.’
‘You think I don’t know that?’ he said, incredulous. ‘Are you suggesting I don’t go and fight for our country?’
Unsure of quite what she was saying, Audrey sighed. She knew, deep down, that Charlie had a heart of gold and had married him because of his dependability, kind nature and strength. She shook her head.
‘No, I’m not saying that,’ she said, her shoulders sagging. ‘Nothing I can say will stop you wanting to fight, even though this bakery and the neighbourhood depends on you for bread in a time when people are having to forgo foods other than what is absolutely necessary. It’s like you’ve been somewhere else since the war started. You might as well have already gone!’
Audrey knew she was treading on thin ice, but she couldn’t help herself. The prospect of Charlie leaving the bakery – leaving and potentially never returning – was hanging over them both and tearing her apart. She knew she was being unfair. She knew that Charlie wanted to defend his country against Hitler and the potential threat of invasion, to help put a stop to the horrific pain and suffering that people across the globe had so far endured, but the fear of losing him deeply affected her. Though she would never admit as much, when she met and married him seven years ago, he had, in some ways, rescued her. Their marriage, the bakery and his extended family had plucked her from the lonely road she was travelling, giving her direction and strength. Without him, would she fall apart?
‘You don’t understand,’ said Charlie, but she turned her back on him and plunged her hands back into the soapy water.
No, you don’t understand, she thought.
‘I should get this done,’ she sighed, her cheeks burning. She felt Charlie’s eyes boring a hole into her back for a long moment, but she didn’t turn to face him, much to her deepest regret.
Now, he was gone. She stared at her wedding band and rotated it slowly around her finger, the gold bright and smooth to touch. Her thoughts went back to their happy wedding day and she glanced at the photograph on the dressing table of the two of them about to cut their wedding cake. She had baked and intricately iced the rich, fruity celebration cake herself, carefully positioning the hand-painted bride and groom wedding cake topper she kept, to this day, wrapped in tissue paper in her jewellery box. Averting her gaze, she tried to work out what to do. Should she follow the footprints in the snow to try to find Charlie? Or should she respect his wishes and not say goodbye?
Realising he had probably left hours earlier and as through the window a flurry of light snow began to fall and cover his footprints, she wiped her eyes and quickly dressed in her bakery overalls, pinning back her hair and fixing the bakery cap on the top of her head. She pushed her feet into her wooden clogs and looked in the mirror at her twenty-seven-year-old self. Slim in build and naturally pretty, Charlie used to say her blue eyes changed shade depending on her mood. This morning they were dark and gloomy as the bottom of the sea. Her beloved Charlie was joining the thousands of other men away from home, who might never return.
I can’t say goodbye.
Pushing back her shoulders, standing tall, Audrey took a deep breath and raised her chin. The faint noise of the clattering of loaf tins came from the bakehouse, where she knew Charlie must have arranged for his Uncle John to step in and take over his baking duties. In a time of rationing, when shipping losses meant that food imports had radically fallen, bread was an essential part of everyone’s diet and, as the local family bakery, the neighbourhood depended on Barton’s bread. She thought of their small but spotless shop downstairs, the shelves waiting to be filled with warm golden loaves and counter goods, to satisfy empty bellies. The locals said the smell of Barton’s bread was so good it was impossible to walk past without coming in. Offering everyday comfort and sustenance in an uncertain, tense and dangerous time; she would never, ever, let her customers down.
Giving her reflection a long, hard stare before turning away, she picked up Charlie’s screwed-up note and placed it in the dressing table drawer for safekeeping.
The lengthy list of what needed doing that morning pressed on her mind. She would need to open up the shop in a matter of hours and paint on a smile for her customers. There were hotel orders to fulfil and a celebration cake to be baked. Life must go on. Today, she would show fortitude and strength, however heavy her heart.
About The Author:
Amy Miller lives in Dorset with her husband and two children. New to saga, she has previously written women’s fiction under a different name.
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