The Liverpool Brides

Book 1: The Autumn Posy

No. 1 Bestselling Amazon UK Time Travel Romance!

The Autumn Posy is a page turning, unforgettable story by award winning author, Michelle Vernal

In 1963 three-year-old Sabrina is abandoned on the streets of Liverpool. She’s taken in and raised by Evelyn Flooks the feisty proprietor of Brides of Bold Street. Now a young woman, Sabrina has followed in her Aunt Evie’s footsteps and creates dream wedding dresses for the brides-to-be who cross their threshold—all the while dreaming of one day wearing her own wedding gown.

When Sabrina meets dark-eyed Adam she’s instantly smitten but after he shares a story about a mysterious woman his uncle encountered in 1963, Sabrina begins to wonder whether her mother abandoned her after all.

In search of answers she trawls the mysterious pocket of Bold Street where she was found and uncovers instead a love story that unfolded in 1928.

But what happened to her mother?

The Autumn Posy is the heartfelt first book in the new Liverpool Brides historical women’s fiction series. If you like charming characters, delightful humour, and intriguing mysteries, then you’ll love Michelle Vernal’s captivating tale.

Read on for an excerpt

 

Prologue

 

The child vanished on a stifling Liverpool summer’s day in late August.

Up until then, it had been a perfectly normal day with no hint of what was to come as the young woman pushed her small child in the fold-out umbrella pram up Bold Street.

The eclectic mix of tightly packed two, three, and four-storey buildings loomed over the duo forming a higgledy-piggledy montage either side of the street and the bombed-out church at the end was a watchful sentry.

As the young woman moved forward with the pushchair, she noticed the child had undone the straps, again.

‘What have I told you?’ she huffed, veering out of the way of a woman in a pink sari. She’d a hand-knitted sweater thrown over the top of it to ward off the awful wind whistling down the street.

‘Don’t like it, Mummy.’ The child wriggled in an attempt to avoid being buckled back in.

‘Stop that right now, do you hear me? Or there’ll be no chocolate bar when we get to the station.’

The wriggling stopped.

The shop beside them had a ‘To Let’ sign in the grimy window and an empty lager can along with a collection of cigarette buts littered the doorway. The woman wrinkled her nose because she was sure she could smell wee.

She bent over the pushchair to click the strap back in, jumping as a piercing wolf whistle sounded. The culprit was a fella with longish hair leaning out the passenger window of a white van as it sailed past.

Pulling a face and pretending to be annoyed, she tugged the hem of her skirt down. Then, ignoring a group of lads with Mohicans in every shade of the rainbow, studded dog collars wrapped around their necks, and scrawny white arms protruding from Union Jack singlets she weaved around them and spied the familiar striped awning framing Tabac across the street.

The cafe was a source of fascination to her because it was a great spot for celebrity spotting and the food was good. She was too skint to call in for coffee or a bite to eat today but she could veer past and see if anyone of note was dining in there today.

She waited for a break in the stream of cars and when it came bounced the pram across the road, coming to a halt under the awning to gawp in the window. There were no diners whose lunch was worth interrupting to ask for an autograph and so, with a disappointed sigh, she hurried on.

The sign for the wedding shop tucked between two larger buildings a short distance ahead caught her eye.

It was the boutique where one of her old school mates had had her wedding and bridesmaids dresses made. Brides of Bold Street. Her mouth tightened. She hadn’t been asked to be a bridesmaid.

The irritation that still rankled at the snub disappeared however as she saw the newsagents where she’d called in to buy her monthly magazine treat just a week ago had gone.

In its place was a shop with posed mannequins in the antwacky gear her mam might have ponced about in. Retro was all the rage these days she thought. Not that she’d be caught dead in clobber like that.

Her eyes swung out to the road. How weird. There were nowhere near as many cars as there’d been a moment ago and the ones tootling up the street were similar to the old banger her grandad had refused to part with.

The air had changed too. It felt thick, almost as if she were wading through tepid soup. She came to a halt. The sensation wasn’t dissimilar to the time she’d stood at the top of the Blackpool Tower and her legs had threatened to give out on her.

‘I’ll just close my eyes for a second,’ she mumbled, having decided she must be having a funny turn of sorts.

The whoosh of people carrying on about their business as they passed her by continued as if there were nothing at all odd about her standing in the middle of the pavement with her eyes squeezed shut, clutching the pram for support.

The familiar smell of exhaust fumes and a trail of cigarette smoke saw her cautiously open them once more. She blinked rapidly to assure herself things were as they should be.

Only they weren’t.

The blood turned to ice in her veins as she realised the pushchair was empty.

 

 

Part One

 

Chapter One

Liverpool, 1981

 

Inside the workroom down the back of Brides of Bold Street, Sabrina and Evelyn were sewing in companionable silence. Separated from the shop floor and partially hidden by the wall behind the counter where they were seated now was where the magic of dressmaking happened.

A mannequin wrapped in a calico toile posed in the corner of the industrious space and against the left wall was a row of dresses with plastic covers protecting them. All the gowns were tagged with their bride-to-be’s name. This was how Sabrina and Evelyn thought of their dresses. There was the demure Catherine, the slinky Margaret, the frothy Lucy and so on. All of them their finished handiwork waiting for collection.

The shelves out the back here were laden with cotton spools, sequins, rolls of ribbon, packets of lace, needles, thimbles, several tape measures and a jar of pens because pens in Evelyn’s opinion had a mysterious habit of vanishing. You could never find one when you needed it. Hence the jar.

A roll of paper stood to one side of the cutting table as Sabrina had been trained by Evelyn in the draping method of pattern making.

Their brides could choose from the collection of books housed in the shop featuring patterns from the latest Parisian designs, from the selection of readymade styles on show on the shop floor, or have a bespoke Brides of Bold Street gown designed.

The design side of the business was left to Sabrina these days. Evelyn maintained she couldn’t be bothered with all the fussing involved with creating a wedding dress from scratch anymore. Her days of tuning in to what the client had in mind which more often than not turned out to be completely different from what they’d initially thought they wanted, were done and dusted. She’d passed that baton to Sabrina.

The truth was Evelyn’s eyes weren’t as sharp as they used to be thanks to years of threading cotton through needles and working under weak lighting. Not that she’d admit to this failing, insisting instead it was Sabrina’s turn to channel her creativity of which she’d plenty.

A transistor radio was tuned to Radio Merseyside on the cutting table with the volume just loud enough to hear it above the thrumming of the old Singer machine at which Evelyn spent her days.

The Singer was older than the shop itself but she refused to do away with it. She didn’t need to see well to work it. Sewing a seam at her machine was something she could do with her eyes shut.

The finer needlework she left to Sabrina but she was still a whizz on that machine. She could manage to coax it into life even on its most temperamental days and her feet made the motion of pushing the treadle down even when she was sitting in her chair enjoying her evening smoke.

The sign on the door to the shop had been switched to open for an hour now and Sabrina and Evelyn each had their customary brew in front of them. They made a good team.

Sabrina drank her tea from a pottery mug she’d picked up in a thrift store. She’d immediately been drawn to its slightly misshapen shape and had thought it needed a home. She also never took her tea without a biscuit to dunk in it. She liked to say the need for a bicky was on account of her low blood pressure but the fact of the matter was she had a sweet tooth.

Evelyn however, refused to drink her tea out of anything other than a delicate, bone china cup and saucer. She was adamant her English breakfast tea tasted tainted in anything else.

Sabrina found her easy to buy for at Christmas and on birthdays because just as some people had a shelf full of books, Evelyn had her china cup and saucer collection. Indeed, a shelf behind the counter was laden with the pretty patterned sets she’d brought her aunt over the years. Evelyn Flooks would never be short of a teacup.

As for the counter, well, it had once served as an antique oak table but had been painted white and repurposed when Sabrina gave the shop a makeover. These days instead of plates and cutlery it was home to their till, telephone, index card filing system, notebook and yes, more pens.

Evelyn had said painting over the oak was sacrilege but secretly she liked the way it brightened the place up. Sabrina had a flair for that sort of thing. This was why she’d given her free rein over the old place when she’d decided to follow her into the business upon leaving school. That, and she’d wanted her to put her stamp on the shop she was to be a partner in.

Sabrina had worked wonders breathing new life into a boutique that hadn’t changed since the late nineteen twenties when Evelyn had opened her business.

For a woman who’d been born and bred in a tough part of the city, Evelyn spoke very properly. There was no hint of the Scottie Road where she’d been raised about her.

When Sabrina had asked her why she said things like, ‘How are you today?’ Instead of ‘Ahright, luv?’ like everyone else around their neck of the woods. Evelyn had told her it had come with practise, ‘yars and yars of practise’.

She was a woman who ran a business, she’d gone on to say. She was at the helm of a respected bridal shop, dressmakers. Call it what you would but either way, it was a business and it was hers. She’d built it with hard graft and sheer determination. She’d not failed where others had and she’d proved wrong those who’d muttered she’d not stand a chance.

She’d seen her business through a depression and a world war for heaven’s sake. A woman like that should speak properly. There’d be no ta-rah, luvs or ahright, queen? on her watch thank you very much.

It always made Sabrina smile when her aunt would forget herself and drop a Scouse clanger into her conversation.

It always happened after the match on Saturday if her team lost.

Evelyn was football mad and so far as she was concerned her boys who made up the Liverpool team walked on water except when they lost.

Every Saturday for as long as Sabrina could remember, her aunt would turn the sign in the shop window to closed, pull her red beanie on and wrap her red and white scarf around her neck. Off she’d tootle to catch the number 17 to Anfield Stadium.

Her one and only indulgence apart from the ten Woodbine cigarettes stretched out over the week was a yearly seat in the stands.

Now, she was squinting despite her heavy glasses as the Singer stitched a seam.

Sabrina hummed along to Bonnie Tyler’s It’s a Heartache. She was perched at the cutting table where she could keep an eye on the boutique, hand sewing delicate Irish lace onto a gown.

‘Give me Cilla Black any day,’ Evelyn muttered pausing to change the angle of the fabric under the Singer’s foot. ‘Voice like an angel our Cilla.’

They both started when the door to the shop jangled open.

Sabrina watched as a hard-faced woman carrying a large bag urged a younger girl to hurry up before closing the door behind them.

Abandoning her stitching, she stepped into the shop. ‘Good morning, how are you today?’ She smiled from one to the other hoping she didn’t have biscuit crumbs stuck to her lips.

Evelyn carried on pushing the treadle.

It was the older woman who stepped forwards and placed the bag on the counter with a thud.

‘We’d like you to alter this, wouldn’t we, Susan?’ Her tone brooked no argument.

Susan looked to be in her early twenties like Sabrina and her nose was red and chafed. She sneezed.

‘Bless you,’ Sabrina said automatically, thinking what gorgeous hair she had. She was always wistful when it came to curls and this girl had a mane of them. The colour was an unusual shade too, it made her think of whisky. Not quite blonde, not quite red.

Susan smiled her acknowledgement taking the hanky from the woman. ‘Ta, Mam.’ She gave her nose a good blow.

‘I’m just getting over a cold. Change of season ones are the worst.’ She stuffed the cotton square in the pocket of a boxy, navy blazer and looked at Sabrina with watery blue eyes before turning them to her surrounds. Her gaze was contemplative as she swept the shop.

A white stand rested against the grey wall, housing thick pattern books, and next to it were rolls of enticing fabrics in shades of oyster, champagne, cream and white. They begged to be unwound and admired.

An ornate chandelier hung from the ceiling and near the counter was a pink velvet-covered blanket box upon which were a display of satin heels. To the right of the counter was a rack of readymade dresses inviting her to come and admire them. The plain wedding hues gave way to vibrant bridesmaid dresses in varying shades and styles.

The fitting room was located next to them, framed by plush, pink velvet drapes. Inside she could see a stool for belongings to be placed on and a full-length mirror.

Sabrina was enjoying the girl’s admiring stock take. She’d worked hard to give the boutique a romantic feel with her palette of pink, white and the soft grey which had reminded her of a fine mist.

Susan’s eyes had settled on the dress on display in the window and Sabrina was pleased. It was exactly what she’d hoped for when she’d dressed the mannequin after having put the finishing touches on the gown. She poured her heart and soul into all her dresses but that one had been an extra special labour of love.

The older woman had opened the bag and was holding up a dress which, although beautiful, had long since had its day. ‘I think our Susan will look a picture in it if it’s nipped in a little around the waist, the hem’s a tad longish too.’

‘It’s lovely,’ Sabrina said noting Susan’s stricken face as her attention swung away from the window to the gown her mother was clutching. ‘It could do with a little modernising though. Perhaps we could change the neckline and shorten the length a little, add a ruffle that sort of thing.’ She shot a reassuring smile Susan’s way.

Hope flared on the other girl’s face.

‘I don’t think so,’ her mother sniffed, and Susan’s eyes dulled. ‘That dress has been handed down through the family and me poor auld ma would turn in her grave if she knew it was being snipped away at.’

Sabrina willed Susan to speak up. It was her day after all. When she didn’t say a word, she decided to take matters into her own hands.

‘I saw you admiring the gown in the window just now Susan. You’d look lovely in it.’ She smiled her encouragement.

Susan seized the opportunity. ‘It caught my eye. It’s exactly the sort of dress I’d love to wear. Look, Mam.’ She moved over to the window and gestured to it.

It was exactly the sort of wedding gown Sabrina would like to wear were she getting married. The dress was white, and almost Georgian era in its simple style. It spoke of Jane Austen and Mr Darcy but the lacy sleeves added a touch of modern glamour.

There was no chance of her wearing it any time soon though. She’d need a fella for that! Her track record wasn’t good either. The last fella she’d gone out with, Dave, had been a proper divvy.

He’d wheedled his way into a date with her at the Swan Inn where she’d been catching up with her self-proclaimed bezzie mate Flo. The pub was stumbling distance from the boutique’s back door onto Wood Street.

When she’d relayed to Flo after her night out at the flicks with Divvy Dave that she reckoned he’d eaten a raw onion before meeting up with her, her friend thought it hilarious. By the time she’d finished telling her he’d talked all through the film and had a habit of starting his sentences with words beginning with ‘H’ just to be sure she got plenty of oniony blasts throughout the evening, Flo had crossed her legs and was bent double, crying laughing.

‘It’s not funny,’ Sabrina had protested although she was grinning. ‘And I’m sworn off all men for the foreseeable future.’

Sabrina watched the wonder on Susan’s face as she admired the dress. It assured her she had the best job in the world.

Susan’s mother however was having none of it. ‘It’s a family tradition, our kid,’ her nasal voice insisted as she flapped the dress at her daughter.

Susan dragged herself away.

Sabrina watched as her shoulders slumped and made up her mind. She’d do her very best to ensure the dress made Susan feel every inch the beautiful bride by the time she’d finished with it. It wouldn’t be easy but she’d work her subtle magic and her mam would have no cause for complaint upon collection.

She owed it to Susan to make the gown work because together, she and Aunt Evie stitched the dreams of the girls who passed over the threshold of their boutique on Bold Street.

Book 2: The Winter Posy

An intriguing time slip, historical fiction story to transport you from the days of big hair in the eighties to even bigger hair and the Beatles in the sixties, by award winning author, Michelle Vernal

Tucked away on Liverpool’s Bold Street is a bridal shop where there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye…

For nearly twenty years Sabrina’s wondered why she was abandoned as a three-year-old on the streets of Liverpool. Taken in by Evelyn Flooks the proprietress of Brides of Bold Street, she’s learned the tricks of the wedding dress trade at her Aunt Evie’s side. She’s also in love for the first time with dark eyed, Adam who’s given her a clue as to what might have happened to her mother. Now, she needs to let go of her past in order to move forward to her future.

In order to do so though she’s going to need to be brave. Sabrina will have to say goodbye to Adam as she steps back into an era of rock and roll, hopes and dreams, and young love.

Swept up in the Merseybeats scene, will she discover the truth behind her mother’s mysterious disappearance and find her way back to Adam? Or, will she remain forever lost…

If you like entertaining women's fiction you'll love this new and different story.

 

 

Contact Michelle at michellevernalwriter@gmail.com

© 2018  Michelle Vernal

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