1 Chapter 1

The First Letter

April 1942

Kent, England

Nothing much happens in an English village. Even in wartime. Elspeth Hunter sat at her desk and looked out the library window at a beautiful spring day. One of the finest in a long while. And she’d be damned if she missed the end of it

Tuesdays were always a slow affair, and this one proved no exception. With only a handful of books to reshelve and a minimal amount of general housekeeping to complete at her desk, Elspeth was bored stiff.

Somehow, and with great effort, she made it till noon when she slipped out to the teashop across the way for a sweet and a pot of tea. She was the only employee in the small village library and could come and go as she pleased, as long as she locked up the place securely. Still, there was that little voice in her head telling her to put in a full day’s work, even though anyone could see there was very little to do until the crowds arrived in the early evening hours.

Elspeth couldn’t wait till evening and imagined herself at home, safely tucked up in her comfy bed, the blackouts drawn, and the light from the small bedside lamp illuminating the pages of the latest Christie mystery. Being a librarian had its advantages indeed.

During the daytime, with most villagers at work and the children in school, she often closed the library in late afternoon and opened up again later. Elspeth glanced at her watch. Half three. She fished in her desk drawer for her keys, and after putting on her warm coat, hat, and woolen scarf, she locked up and headed for home.

The air was crisp for April, but the sun was out and everything looked leafy and green. Elspeth spotted Vicar Crandall and his lovely wife, Moira, walking on the opposite side of the street. The vicar tipped his hat and Elspeth waved. She’s far too young for such an old goat. Ought to be ashamed of himself, even if he is a holy man

Elspeth reflected on how difficult it was these days to tell who was who in town, especially with the constant influx of evacuees from the cities. It seemed the population changed daily with so many unfamiliar faces roaming about. Amazing she ran into anyone she knew by their first names. Let alone their surnames

It wasn’t much of a distance to her home, but given her advanced age, almost into her seventies, Elspeth found her breaths coming in short little gasps by the time she opened the gate, collected the afternoon post, and made it up the five small steps to the front door.

Once inside, and taking a moment until her breathing reverted to normal, she hung up her coat and scarf, dropped her handbag and keys on the hall table, and went straight back to the kitchen where she put on the kettle and set it to boil. A nice cuppa and I’ll be right as rain. Thenshe busied herself with the tea things and set out a packet of biscuits on the table.

She waited for the kettle to boil and leafed through the post. Nothing much. A bulletin from the Ministry of Food extolling the virtues of the National Loaf—a brown bread that most Britishers considered inedible, nasty tasting, and above and beyond what was required for the war effort. High in vitamin E, they say, and considered an aphrodisiac by some.A lot of good that does me at my age!Elspeth suppressed a laugh and looked over the next piece of mail; a letter addressed to her, yet with no return address from the sender. Odd

A loud whistling sound, and Elspeth turned to switch off the kettle. She slit open the envelope with a kitchen knife and focused on the first two simple sentences typed on plain white paper. But nothing was simple about the message, not for Elspeth Hunter. She was on her way into the dining room when she keeled over in a dead faint. 2: Quiet on the Home Front

Leslie heard Caroline’s key in the lock. He closed his eyes, feigning sleep on the sofa, and hoped the kids—Samson and Delilah—wouldn’t give him away. Both shelties perked up their ears when Caroline dropped her shopping bags on the hallway table, but continued to hold fast to the positions they occupied; Samson sprawled across Leslie’s feet and Delilah tucked under his arm, napping on her back and flashing a contented smile.

Caroline came into the room and plopped down in the wingback chair across from him. Leslie heard her loud huffs and puffs and tried his British best to ignore her.

“Who knew it could take so long?” Then, after no response, “Les, I can tell you’re not asleep. You’re avoiding me and I damn well know it.”

Leslie stirred, gave out a muffled yawn, and turned his head in her direction. “I’m not trying to avoid you. I wasasleep.”

“Uh-huh. Pull the other one. Since when have you been able to sleep this late in the day, even with a night shift coming up?”

“Well, I wastrying.” He shifted on the couch knocking Delilah over and onto the floor. “Oh, honey. So sorry.”

Delilah flashed him a nasty look then shook her furry behind and trotted over to her mistress for a sympathetic pat.

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