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The Promise

A Reader's Favorite Five Star Novel 

1944 The Isle of Wight - Sixteen-year-old Constance’s life on the island is sheltered until the death of her brother, brings the reality of war crashing down around her. He leaves behind his pregnant widow, Ginny. When Constance meets a handsome Canadian airforce man, she’s eager to escape her grief and be swept up by first love. It’s a love which has ramifications she could never envisage.

Present Day - When young British backpacker, Isabel Stark happens across a car accident on a lonely stretch of road in the South Island of New Zealand her life changes forever. The sole passenger, Ginny Havelock asks her to make a promise before she passes away - to find Constance and to say she’s sorry.

Isabel, a lost soul, is haunted by her promise on her return to the United Kingdom and the only clue as to finding Constance lies within a conversation held at Ginny’s funeral. It leads her to Isle of Wight.

When Isabel and Constance’s paths finally cross will Ginny’s last words be enough for Constance to make peace with her past? And in fulfilling her promise will Isabel find a place to call home?

From award winning author, Michelle Vernal comes an utterly heartbreaking, historical novel inspired by her birth family's connection with the Isle of Wight - Fans of Susan Sallis, Ella Carey and Fiona Valpy will absolutely love this captivating, unique story.

Excerpt follows:

The Beginning

 

Isabel’s heart felt as though it would jump right out of her T-shirt as she crouched down beside the mangled car—later she would realise it was down to adrenalin. Now though she leaned in through the window and managed to cradle the elderly woman’s head with her left hand leaving her right hand free to stroke the sparse floss of hair. She was careful to avoid the gaping wound from where the blood ran free. The woman’s breath was faint and jagged, while Isabel’s came in short puffs. She felt as though she’d fallen into a nightmare.

Less than a minute ago she’d been staring out the passenger window of the two-berth Jucy van she was sharing with her friend and travelling companion, Helena. Her mind absorbing and trying to imprint the beauty of the backdrop the Southern Alps provided against the rushing waters of the turquoise river they were crossing.

New Zealand had lived up to its hype, she’d been thinking, spotting the now familiar sight of a hawk soaring low in search of something to eat. It was amazing how much diverse scenery could be packaged up inside such a small country. In just four weeks, they’d seen volcanos, boiling mud geysers, rainforests, a glacier, fjords, mountains, rivers, and beaches to die for but the highlight for Isabel had been the sperm whale in Kaikoura. It had risen out of the water as though to say hello as she leaned over the railing of the whale watch boat, she’d been blown away by its size and grace. That moment was one she would never forget.

Yes, she was so pleased that she hadn’t flown straight home from Australia when her work visa was up like so many of her fellow Brits. They were missing out by not coming here she’d mused as the hawk swooped.

She’d met Helena who hailed from Freyburg in Germany through the pub where she was working in Melbourne’s hot spot of St Kilda. It had been while clearing tables and tallying up tips that the two girls had hatched the plan to spend a month traversing New Zealand before heading back to their respective countries. What a trip it had been, she’d thought rubbing her temples which were tender after last night’s efforts at Pog Mahone’s in Queenstown. Helena might have looked like butter wouldn’t melt with her big brown eyes and sensible short haircut but she was naughty, and they’d had a right laugh together. They’d not had a moment's snippiness either, which was quite amazing given their close living quarters.

Imagine Dragons was playing on the stereo and Isabel's fingers had been tapping out the tune to “Radioactive” on her thighs. It was hard to imagine that in just over a fortnight she’d be back home in Southampton. Mind you it would be nice to have Mum fussing over her. She couldn’t wait to have a hug and catch up on all the news properly. There was something about Skype that made her mum behave like a giggly teenager. It was the way she twiddled with her hair and her eyes kept flitting to her image in the corner. Her dad said she’d never been any different—a show-off in front of a camera who was born before her time. In the age of the selfie, she’d have been up there with the Kardashian clan.

Ahead, the road was a black twisty snake beneath the bright blue South Island sky. There was such a sense of freedom doing a roadie she’d thought, as Helena handled the camper around the corner with the expertise of someone who’d been driving it for the best part of the last month. She was thinking that one day she’d like to do a trip like this down Route 66 in the States, and that was when Isabel spied the car. It was still too far away to register what had happened, but she understood instantly that it was not good.

As Helena slowed and they drew closer, she saw the little hatchback had folded itself around a telegraph pole. The crumpled bonnet was still steaming like an alien ship that had crash landed.

‘Shit!’ It had obviously just happened, and Isabel wasn’t sure if she’d sworn out loud or if it had been Helena.

Her friend braked and veered the camper over to the grass verge.

Isabel’s hand hovered over the handle in readiness for the van to stop. ‘You ring 111 and get help. I’ll see what I can do.’ She jumped down from the camper van, racing over to the car hoping for the best but petrified of what she might find.

Now, here she was, willing this poor old woman to be all right. She should not die like this; it would not be fair! To have lived this long and to die in the arms of a stranger on the side of an open road in the middle of nowhere was not how it should end. Isabel was no doctor, but it was obvious the woman was too old to survive the shock let alone her injuries. She watched as the woman’s eyes, weighted down by crepe paper lids, fluttered before drifting and locking on hers. That her irises were the same piercing blue as the sky Isabel had been admiring only moments ago, she vaguely acknowledged as she continued to whisper her soothing platitudes.

The woman was trying to summon the strength to speak, a herculean task given the twisted groaning metal wedged against her chest from the impact.

‘Shush now, you’ll be fine. Help’s on its way.’

‘Wanted to go back to the Isle of Wight—Tell Constance I’m sorry. Was wrong—should never have left—too late, too late. Tell her for me—’

Her voice held the traces of an accent, almost forgotten it had lived elsewhere so long, but it was one which Isabel recognised as being from her part of the world. The woman’s eyes fought to hold on to hers. She knew that she would not let go until she answered her and so she found herself nodding. ‘I will; I’ll tell Constance.’

‘Promise.’ The lips formed the words, but the breath behind them was faint.

‘I promise.’

A smile flickered then the light behind those bright blue eyes clouded over, and then she was gone.

 

PART ONE

 

Verbena officinalis–Blue vervain/Common vervain

 

From Celtic/Druid culture and Ancient Roman herbalism–a sacred herb associated with magic and sorcery. Means ‘to drive away a stone’ and was said to remove urinary stones during those times. Used to purify homes and temples and to ward off the plague. Contribute to love potions and can be used as an aphrodisiac.

 

Used to ease nerves, stress, and depression.

To clear airways and expel mucous.

To aid in sleeplessness, nervousness, obstructed menstruation,

 and weak digestion.

 

Using the dark green leaf of the plant, wash thoroughly and dry. Place leaves on baking paper and allow to dry naturally in an open space out of direct sunlight for several days. Turn the leaves occasionally ensuring there isn’t any moisture present. Once dried out the leaves can be used for tea or placed in bathwater for a soothing effect while bathing. The vervain seeds can also be roasted and eaten.

                                                                           

Isabel

Chapter 1

Isabel looked around the crowded church hall as she waited behind a gentleman with a thick thatch of white hair many a younger man would be envious of. She was in the line for the tea and coffee although having held back from the initial rush it had thinned out considerably. In the middle of the room were three trestle tables bowed with the weight of the plates of food set out upon them. Seats had been lined up against the wall opposite the entrance from the main building, she noted, and all were taken. It was a good turn-out. People were milling about, some with cup and saucer in hand talking in low murmurs, and they were all strangers to her, every single one of them.

‘What would you like, dear?’ asked a woman who made Isabel think of apple pie for no reason other than she had a round face with rosy cheeks and a kind smile.

‘Oh, um, coffee, please.’

‘Coffee it is. My goodness that’s an unusual hair colour,’ she said looking properly at Isabel before lifting the coffee pot.

‘Mmm.’ The green colour she’d chosen on her last visit to the hairdressers always garnered second glances, which she didn’t mind. She wouldn’t have opted for such an unusual shade if she did. It was her way of standing out from the crowd. A crowd in which she was never very confident of where she fitted. She was never sure how she should reply though when someone actually commented. To launch into her reasons for wanting to set herself apart a little seemed far too long-winded for such a straightforward comment.

‘And how did you know our Ginny then?’ the woman asked, pouring the hot liquid into one of the cups set out on the table.

Isabel didn’t want to blurt out the truth, so she said the first thing that sprang to mind. ‘I only met her the once, but she made an impression on me, and well, I just wanted to come today.’

The woman was only half listening as she weighed up whether to signal to her catering side-kick, who was beavering away in the kitchen, that she needed another pot of coffee. ‘That’s nice, dear.’ She decided she’d get away with what was left in the pot as she handed Isabel her drink. ‘I have to say Father Joyce did her proud; it was a lovely service. Help yourself to milk and sugar.’ She gestured to her right. ‘And don’t be shy with the food; it’s there to be eaten.’ She eyed Isabel’s petite frame thinking she was a girl who could do with a sausage roll or two before turning her gaze to the next person in line.

‘Thank you.’ Isabel moved over to the tray she’d been directed to, and as she finished stirring the milk and a heaped teaspoon of sugar into her coffee, she wondered where she should stand. She spied a quiet corner near the entrance and opting for that weaved her way through the gathering being careful not to get knocked. If anyone was likely to send her cup of coffee flying, it was her!

Isabel hadn’t been sure if she should have come today, but she’d been certain it was something she had to do. It might sound clichéd, but she was seeking closure. She hoped that by attending the funeral of Virginia May Havelock, the woman who’d died in her arms not quite a week and a half ago, closure was what she’d get. They didn’t mess around in New Zealand, she thought, taking a sip of her drink and trying not to make eye contact with anyone because she did not want to have to get into a conversation on how she’d met Ginny.

The coffee was weak and flavourless the way coffee always is at weddings and funerals, and she wished she’d asked for tea. It was very different to her limited experience of a funeral in the United Kingdom where more often than not the congregation was mostly made up of family and close friends. Today, it looked as though the whole town had turned out.

She would have felt less out of place if she’d had Helena with her, but she’d left for Thailand four days ago. There was no way her friend was going to miss the Full Moon Party on the beaches of Koh Pha onlngan before heading home to Freyburg. One last rave-up before she got back to the serious business of real life. Isabel had planned ongoing with her, but everything had changed the afternoon they’d stumbled across the accident. It was awful, but in some respects, she wished she could rewind to the moment she and Helena had spotted the mangled hatchback. She wished it had been her no-nonsense German friend who’d gotten from the camper van to see if she could help. She would have been able to put the elderly woman’s death into perspective and move on.

Isabel, however, couldn’t which was why she’d changed her flight and was now heading home via a direct flight to the UK tomorrow instead. There was only one full moon a month, and it had been and gone. Helena had partied hard and staggered on board her Lufthansa flight the following day, texting Isabel to tell her she’d missed a fantastic night. She’d been unable to understand why her British friend wouldn’t leave New Zealand before the funeral. ‘You don’t owe the woman anything. She was a stranger.’

‘But I was there when she died, Helena. I saw the life go from her eyes. And I made her a promise before it did.’

‘Yes, yes, it is very sad, but she was not young, and there was no one else involved, Isabel. People live, and people die, and at least she did not die alone. As for this promise, she is dead—like I said you owe her nothing,’ she’d said in her clipped tones.

The thing Helena didn’t get was that from the moment the police officer who’d arrived at the scene with an entourage of an ambulance and a fire truck told Isabel the woman’s name was Ginny she’d become a real person. She was ninety-one according to her driver’s license which had expired five years earlier, he’d gone on to tell her with a sage shake of his head. Ginny was a person who’d had a life and a family and who, thanks to a moment’s misjudgment, was now gone. She was also a person to whom Isabel had made a promise. It was that promise that was haunting her no matter what Helena said.

She’d continued to tell her to put it behind her, as she set about making the most of her last couple of days in Christchurch. But Isabel couldn’t. Instead of heading out to admire the street art the city was becoming renowned for post-earthquake, her hungry eyes had scanned the paper the hostel supplied in the foyer each morning for the next few days, until the obituary appeared. She’d torn it carefully from the page and had read it so many times over the last week that she knew it by heart.

 

HAVELOCK Virginia May (nee Moore)

In loving memory of Ginny who passed away suddenly on Wednesday afternoon aged 91 years. Dearly beloved wife of the late Neville, much-loved mother and mother-in-law of Edward Henry and Olga Havelock. Cherished grandmother of Tatiana. The family would like to acknowledge the support of Father Christopher Joyce of St Aidan’s, Timaru who looked after their beloved Ginny in life and in death.

A celebration of Ginny’s life will be held at St Aidan's, 160 Mountain View Road, Timaru on Saturday 15 April at 11 am. In lieu of flowers donations to St Vincent de Paul Society, Timaru may be placed in the church foyer.

 

Isabel’s hand shook as she raised her cup to her mouth and a little coffee slopped over the side and down her front. She glanced down at her plain black shift dress bought specially for the occasion. The wearing of black was as foreign to her as was attending the funeral of someone she didn’t know. She was a girl who loved colour, and the brighter the better. That was another anomaly about a Kiwi funeral, she thought, wiping off the liquid. Not everyone was dressed in formal black. Satisfied no one would see her mishap she looked up and spied Father Joyce making his way toward her. He wore the white robes of an Anglican priest, and despite his attire swamping him like a tent, it did little to hide his rotund frame. His wispy grey hair floated up with each purposeful step, and he had a serviette in one hand, cakes, a savoury and club sandwiches on a plate in the other.

‘The parish ladies have outdone themselves,’ he declared upon reaching her. The smear of cream on the top of his lip gave away the fact he was on second helpings. ‘It’s a spread our Ginny would have approved of. Have you partaken, my dear?’

‘Erm no, I haven’t had much of an appetite of late.’ It was true, Isabel had not been sleeping well and not just because of the comings and goings at all hours in the hostel dormitory. She’d been running on empty for the past week.

Father Joyce nibbled on his club sandwich, declaring ham and egg to be his favourite combination and that she really should try them.

Isabel smiled politely as he dabbed at his mouth with the serviette. She was pleased to see the cream was gone because she’d been afraid her gaze would have kept slipping toward it the same way it would a large pimple or such like. The more you tried to pretend it wasn’t there the more you stared.

‘I don’t believe we’ve met. In fact, I know we haven’t met. I’d remember meeting a young lady with green hair.’ He chortled. ‘Are you a relative of Ginny’s?’

‘No.’ Isabel’s hand had automatically moved to her hair which she tucked behind her ears, a nervous habit. She hesitated and then decided to come clean. She couldn’t tell a lie to a man of the cloth not even the teensiest of white ones. ‘I’m Isabel Stark. I’m here on holiday from the UK, and my friend and I came across Ginny’s accident just after it happened. I tried to help—but it was too late for that, so I held her head in my hands while my friend rang for help. I tried to soothe her before she uh—’ Her voice caught in her throat as it closed over at the reliving of such a raw memory.

‘Oh my, my.’ Father Joyce reached out and rested his hand on Isabel’s upper arm. From anyone else she’d only just met she would have flinched away from the gesture finding it intrusive, but from this man with his kindly buttonlike eyes, it was comforting. ‘To witness the passing of a person in the circumstances such as you did must be terribly traumatic. But how very wonderful you were there, Isabel, for Ginny, to ease her passing.’

Isabel bit her bottom lip; she hadn’t thought about it like that. She hoped her being there had helped in some small way.

‘She’ll be greatly missed you know. She was a force of nature our Ginny. You’d never have believed she was over ninety. I don’t think she believed she was over ninety!’ He gave a little snort. ‘She was always happy to bake for the new mum’s in the church or to pop a meal around if she heard someone was poorly. She kept herself busy too by volunteering in our local St Vincent de Paul second-hand shop here in Timaru.’

‘She sounds like she was a wonderful person, and your eulogy was lovely by the way.’

His eyes twinkled. ‘Ah. Now you see what I didn’t say was Ginny was a woman who in later years, did not suffer fools gladly, and whose tongue could be more acerbic than a sharp lemon vinaigrette at times. But you don’t say those sorts of things now do you. None of us is perfect, and she was no exception, but she was also incredibly generous of spirit with a heart as wide as the Clutha River, where I hail from.’

Isabel smiled. ‘She was human then.’

‘She was human, and we all have our foibles.’

‘You said you met twenty years ago when you spoke about your friendship with her during the service.’

‘Oh yes, it was when she brought a cake, carrot cake it was with proper cream cheese icing, to the manse not long after I took over the parish after Father Samuel retired. She’d clashed once or twice with him, something to do with the flower arrangements, I think. I never did get the full story, but she was hoping to get off on a better foot with myself. Father Samuel didn’t have a sweet tooth like me.’ He patted his girth, resplendent over the purple belt. ‘Carrot cake with cream cheese icing is the fastest way to my heart.’ His laugh was low and rumbly like an engine starting, and Isabel couldn’t help but smile.

‘We two sat together and put the world to rights over a cup of tea and many a generous slice of her cake over the years. I know she missed her son, Teddy, dreadfully I’m afraid; he was her only child which made it worse. I know she would have liked more, but it wasn’t meant to be. I used to tell her, “Your children are only on loan, Ginny, they’re not yours to keep.” He spoke very well today, Teddy I mean, don’t you think?’ He cast his gaze around the room as though seeking him out.

‘Yes, he did. I liked the story he told about the height of his mum’s pavlovas and how she lost the title of being a ten-pound pom.’

‘Having earned the respect of the local farmers’ wives by winning the Biggest Pavlova competition at the annual country fete,’ Father Joyce finished for her, chuckling at the tale before snaffling his slice of banana cake.

Teddy’s hair, Isabel had noticed as he spoke, still whispered of the ginger, sandy colour of his youth, despite his years. The only clue to his age was in the wrinkles fanning out around his hazel eyes when he smiled and the way his hair had receded ever so slightly. There was a greying too around his temples. He was a tall man but lean and obviously kept himself in shape. There was a gentleness to his features, and he looked she decided, her inventory not quite done, like a nice man.

His suit even to Isabel’s untrained eye was obviously tailor-made. It was clear by his confident manner that he was used to public speaking and he’d peppered his eulogy about his mother in a way that had managed to be humorous and eloquent at the same time. Isabel had been rather taken aback at the sight of his wife as he sat back down though. She’d leaned in and kissed him on the cheek, a glamorous vision who was at least half his age. A young girl sat by her side.

Isabel had passed by them as the congregation trailed from the church into the hall and the family of three stood at the entrance of the hall shaking hands, accepting condolences, and thanking people for coming. She hadn’t the heart to say who she was and how she’d encountered Ginny and so she’d simply said, ‘I’m sorry for your loss,’ to which she’d received a sad smile and nod.

‘I’ll miss Ginny’s pavlova almost as much as her carrot cake, and I think it’s always a good thing to laugh at a funeral. A person’s life should be celebrated.’ Father Joyce said, finishing his sarnie. ‘Yes really, rather good,’ he mumbled, despite his mouthful.

Isabel was unsure if he meant laughing at a funeral, or if he was referring to the sandwich once more. She saw his eyes flit in the direction of the trestle tables where the plates of food were slowly being depleted.

‘I rather fancy one of those ginger gems before they all go,’ he said.

‘Is a ginger gem like gingerbread?’

‘They’re a little crustier on the outside than gingerbread, but they melt in your mouth on the inside.’

‘Sounds rather delicious.’

‘Are you tempted, my dear, because if you do, then I can. Raewyn Morris, she’s my secretary, has been keeping an eye on the afternoon tea proceedings, and she’ll slap my hand if she sees me going back for thirds. I’m supposed to be trying to lose a few pounds.’

‘I am partial to all things ginger.’

‘Oh go on, Isabel,’ he urged conspiratorially.

There was nothing else for it. Who was she to deprive Father Joyce of a ginger gem? Isabel returned after nearly sending the contents of her plate flying, thanks to the stray foot she tripped over on her journey back from the trestle table. Thankfully she was righted by the owner of the stray foot’s helpful hand and returned with the two ginger treats intact.

‘You almost lost those,’ Father Joyce said in a tone that implied that would have been sacrilege indeed as he helped himself to one of the gems.

‘I’m a proper klutz—always have been,’ Isabel said as he looked furtively over at an angular woman standing near the cheese roll-ups. Her hawkish gaze was elsewhere.

In two bites his little cake was gone. Father Joyce wiped the crumbs from his robe and Isabel listened to him describe the woman whose gaze she had held until she passed while she ate hers at a much slower pace than the priest.

 

Chapter 2

‘I rather think Ginny looked upon me as a stand-in for Teddy given we’re of a similar age. He’s a mover and shaker in the world of finance; does something or other in banking and lives in Hong Kong. I must say he strikes me as one of those men for whom retirement is a foreign word.’

It was a bit pot calling the kettle black Isabel thought, given the priest must be somewhere in his early seventies himself.

‘His wife, Olga, is Russian, and they have a daughter, Tatiana, who’s about to turn fourteen. I had the most heart-warming chat with her before the service; she’s a charming young lady you know. A credit to her parents.’ Father Joyce looked around making sure none of his parishioners were within earshot, but crowd in the hall as the afternoon wore on was slowly thinning. Nevertheless, he leaned in closer to Isabel and said, ‘Between you and me it was a cause of consternation for Ginny when her son married Olga. That he should marry a woman he not only met on the Internet but who was half his age and so late in life too. Well,’ he tapped the side of his nose, ‘let’s just say Ginny had rather a lot to say on the subject. I told her she should be happy he’d found love. Not everybody gets a second shot at it.’

‘Had he been married before then?’

‘Yes, his first wife passed away from a prolonged illness ten years after they were married and there were no children. He, as I understand it, threw himself wholeheartedly into his finance career and did not come to terms with his grief for a long time. On the occasions I’ve met with him over the years when he’s been home visiting his mother, it was clear to me he’s devoted to Olga and Tatiana. They both gave him a new lease of life.’

‘She’s very beautiful,’ Isabel said spotting Olga, a willowy brunette, across the room in conversation with a woman who looked very staid by comparison in her tunic top and leggings.

‘Yes, she’s a beauty all right. That didn’t impress Ginny though. She felt that at his age he should be retiring and spending his time on a golf course, a golf course preferably somewhere in the South Island of New Zealand near his mother. She didn’t approve of him embarking on fatherhood along with the trials and tribulations of keeping a younger woman happy when he was of pensionable age. She was heard to mutter more than once, “Who did he think he was—Donald Trump?”’

Isabel suppressed a smile. Melania and Donald had sprung to mind when she initially saw them together.

Father Joyce finished his remaining savoury before continuing. ‘Do you know Ginny remarked to me the last time Teddy, Olga, and Tatiana had been to visit that she didn’t fancy Tatiana’s chances of becoming the prima ballerina her mother seemed to have her heart set on. In her words, the poor sod who had to perform the pas de deux with her granddaughter would surely be left bowlegged were he to attempt a lift! A little unkind but humourous nonetheless, and I knew that at the crux of the comment was a wish for what was best for Tatiana.’

Isabel looked around until she spied Teddy. By his side was a solidly built young girl standing with the awkwardness of an adolescent who doesn’t yet know where she fits in the world. Isabel knew that feeling well, except she no longer had the umbrella of her teenage years to hide under. The young teen standing next to her father looked like she’d be much more at home in a pair of jeans than the frilly ensemble she was currently decked out in. Isabel watched her as she tugged at her skirt with obvious irritation. It was hard to imagine the poor girl in a tutu.  

‘Ginny felt her daughter-in-law was trying to relive her childhood dreams through her daughter and that it was ludicrous to push a style of dance on poor Tatiana that required one to be sylphlike. She wondered whether perhaps with her granddaughter's sturdy frame, she might be better suited to women’s rugby. “The New Zealand Black Ferns were doing ever so well on the world stage,” she was fond of saying. Ginny loved her rugby; she felt it made her a proper Kiwi when she wrapped her All Blacks scarf around her neck and cheered the boys on.’ Father Joyce looked off into the distance lost in his memories for a moment before lamenting, ‘Funny that she should feel the need to be a ‘proper’ Kiwi given she spent more of her life here than in your part of the world.’

‘Do you know where she hailed from in the UK?’ Isabel recalled the traces of an accent, the slight rolling of an ‘r’ dropping of an ‘h’ she’d picked up as Ginny spoke her last words.

‘Southampton originally.’

Goosebumps prickled her arms; she wasn’t surprised she was from the South East she had managed to say that she wanted to go back to the Isle of Wight, but the same city as her? The coincidence sent a shiver coursing through her. ‘I’m from Southampton.’

Father Joyce sensing he had a captive audience was only too happy to continue with his musings. ‘Well now isn’t that a coincidence, and it was definitely Southampton because I remember she mentioned it in conjunction with her being from the city from which the Titanic sailed forth. She didn’t talk much about her life before coming to New Zealand. Although we got onto the subject of the war one day and she did remark that she’d gone to live in the town of Ryde on the Isle of Wight at the outbreak of World War Two. Ginny said it was deemed safer than the port city, and she married a local lad while she was there on the island.’

If Isabel had had antennae, they would have been quivering. Here was the connection Ginny had to the Isle of Wight.

‘She never told me his name, but she did tell me she was pregnant when the news arrived that her husband had been killed in battle. The poor fellow, like so many other young men of the time, didn’t get to celebrate his twentieth birthday or the birth of his son.’ He shook his head, and the wisps of hair floated up briefly before settling back down on his scalp with a silent sigh. ‘After his death, she felt she couldn’t stay on the island with all its ghosts of what might have been, so she returned to the mainland with her son. It was there she met Neville who adopted Teddy. He was still a wee babe, and the three of them immigrated to New Zealand in the mid-forties along with the rest of the ten-pound poms wanting to put the war years behind them.

‘They bought land upon arriving here and farmed it until Neville died. It wasn’t an easy life she was always quick to mention, but it was a good life. She tried to run the farm on her own for a while after Neville passed but it was too much, and she sold up. I think it always saddened her that Teddy didn’t come home and step in where his father left off, but he had a different path to follow. She’d downsized and moved into Timaru shortly before I arrived in town.’

Isabel seized the break in his story. ‘Father Joyce, just before she passed she asked me to promise her something.’

He peered closely at her. ‘I can see whatever it was she asked of you is weighing heavily on your mind, Isabel.’ Then he did a little jiggle ridding himself of the crumbs that had settled on the front of his robe before turning his attention back to Isabel. ‘You’re welcome to share that promise with me if you think it might help.’

‘She asked me to find someone called Constance and to tell her she was sorry—she should never have left. Those were pretty much her words, and the only clue she gave me was that she’d wanted to go back to the Isle of Wight herself to say sorry.’

‘Now that is interesting,’ he rubbed his chin, ‘because there was something on Ginny’s mind of late. She wouldn’t allude to what it was other than to say she needed to go back to Ryde—there was someone she had to see. She must have been referring to this Constance she mentioned to you. She wouldn’t tell me why she wanted to go back, but there was a desperation about her this last while which I can only put down to her age and the realisation that nobody lives forever. In fact, the day she died a suitcase was in the car as well as a return ticket to the United Kingdom. Did you know that?’

Isabel shook her head; she’d been in too much shock at the time to pay attention to anything other than Ginny.

‘No, why would you? Teddy, told me he was most perturbed by this as he knew nothing of her plans.’ Father Joyce laid a hand on her arm once more. ‘Isabel, Ginny, for all her endearing attributes was also a woman with a stubborn streak. I believe it was this unwillingness of hers to listen to those who knew better that saw her continue to get behind the wheel. This was despite being told she was endangering others each time she did so. It’s a blessing that nobody else was hurt in the accident as she wouldn’t have been able to rest in peace had there been.’ He nodded and raised his hand in a wave to signal goodbye to one of his parishioners who’d paused as though wanting to interrupt but had thought better of it. ‘Mrs Mercer, a gossip of the highest order if you give her an in,’ he mumbled out the corner of his mouth.

Isabel watched in amusement as the older woman, in a pair of black trousers that fitted a tad too snuggly—and would cause concern were she to attempt to bend over—scuttled over to join a small party also making their way toward the exit.

‘You do realise you’re in no way obligated to fulfill your promise to Ginny, don’t you, my dear?’

Her attention turned to Father Joyce once more.

‘You did more than enough by being there and offering comfort in her final moments, and it was very good of you to come today.’

‘It wasn’t, really; I think my reasons might be rather selfish. I was hoping by coming that I’d be able to move forward from what happened that afternoon. I haven’t been sleeping well, you see.’

‘Oh, dear, dear. Nightmares?’

‘No, I thought I might have bad dreams, but I feel like I haven’t been dreaming at all. It just takes me forever to drift off because my mind keeps replaying Ginny’s last moments over and over.’

He patted her arm. ‘It will get better. It might just take a bit of time. Do you think coming to the funeral today has helped?’

‘I don’t know, Father Joyce. I really just don’t know.’

 

Chapter 3

 

Isabel poked her head out from under the duvet like a turtle stretching its neck from its shell before rubbing at her eyes; they felt puffy and gritty. It was a sure sign she’d slept heavily, oh, and the spot behind her knees was driving her mad. She reached down and scratched it, knowing it would make it worse but unable to resist the burning itch any longer. It had taken her forever to get to sleep—something she was getting used to, but it didn’t help that her body clock was up the wop, and it had felt like the bed was rolling thanks to the thirty-plus hours flight home she’d stepped off yesterday.

She looked blankly around at her surroundings. Unfamiliar plush claret curtains with gold tassel tie-backs, and a faux Louis-whatever-he-was chair in the corner of the room with yesterday’s clothes draped over its seat. The striped wine and gold duvet she was wrapped up in was not one she’d seen before either.

It took a few seconds for her to register that she was home in her old bedroom. Gone was the pink everything and white princess dressing table that had lived here for as long as she could remember. It was the framed artsy black and white print of Princess Diana on the wall opposite her that gave the game away. Her mum’s attempt to make her only child’s room look like the guest room she’d hankered after most of her married life. The two-up two-down where Isabel had grown up did not allow for an attic extension even if the finances had, so her daughter’s empty bedroom was the next best thing! Her parents had worked hard all their married life, and she’d never gone without a thing, but her mum had, and a guest room at long last was the silver lining in Isabel packing her bags and leaving home.

Barbara Stark or Babs as she liked to be called, was a staunch royalist. Isabel had only been five when the Princess of Wales had died, but she could still recall the histrionics and her mum’s insistence on wearing black for the best part of a month. These days she was a regular commentator on Kate Middleton’s latest look, and the birth of George and Charlotte had been akin to the arrival of her own grandchildren. The breaking news of a new baby had warranted an urgent, middle of the night in Australia, Skype call. For her part, Isabel was grateful to the young royals. She’d sent a silent thank you to Wills and Kate for taking the pressure off her to settle down and provide her parents with a grandchild as she flitted around the other side of the world in search of adventure.

Well, she was back now, and she’d told Mum the print had to go as she dropped her pack on the bedroom floor yesterday afternoon. Her mum’s face took on the pained expression that Isabel knew meant she’d already lost the argument. She’d then insisted it was a well-known fact that to remove a photograph of royalty from one’s home was bad luck—especially a late member. Oh yes, Babs had stated knowingly, patting her freshly blow-waved hair the trip to Heathrow Airport had warranted, to do so would invoke the ancient curse of the House of Windsor.

She’d gone on to play the, and you had left home card saying that she didn’t need to invoke any curses given her age. Isabel had eyed her suspiciously. She was fairly sure she’d made the whole curse thing up, and her mum was only nudging sixty. Nevertheless, she dropped her case on the grounds of knowing it was pointless to protest. Hence the beaming Diana that was here to greet her the moment she opened her eyes.

She yawned and stretched not knowing what time it was, but the dull light peeping through the gap where the drapes didn’t quite meet signalled morning had broken. She heard the drone of the radio in the kitchen beneath and guessed her mum would be going about her morning routines before heading off to her part-time job at the Asda Superstore. If that were the case, then it would be around 8 am which meant she’d slept for twelve hours solid. She wondered if her dad had already left for work. The temptation to snuggle back down to sleep tugged at her, but she fought off the urge and pulled herself upright. The sooner she got herself back into a routine the better. Her hand fluttered up to her hair. Yes, as she’d suspected her curls were matted. She probably looked, given its current colour, as though she had a laurel wreath atop her head.

‘I bet you never woke up looking anything but gorgeous, and I guarantee you brushed your teeth before bed each night,’ she muttered to Princess Di. She was normally diligent on that front, but from the sour taste in mouth, she guessed she’d missed last night’s session. Jet lag, that was her excuse, and she was running with it. That was when the events of that afternoon on the back roads of New Zealand’s South Island came flooding back, as they had each morning since it had happened. She whimpered and dived back down under the duvet cover pulling it tightly over her head. How she wished it had all been one of those horribly real nightmares; she wished she was a turtle with a hard shell who could hide away forever inside it.

Her breath was hot under the weight of the bedding as she wondered again why it was her that had been the one to make Ginny Havelock a promise she wasn’t sure she could keep. It was a question she’d asked herself on the plane. What had kept nagging at her as the hours between meals ticked away in economy class was Ginny’s connection with the Isle of Wight—an island that was now just a ferry ride away. Her thoughts were interrupted by a tapping on her door. It was followed by, ‘Yoo-hoo, Dizzy Izzy. Are you awake?’

‘No. Go away, Mum, I’m still asleep.’ Isabel heard a snuffling, and a whimper as the door creaked open. ‘Don’t let that bloody dog near me. I’m not in the mood for fending him off.’

‘Don’t shout, Isabel. You know he doesn’t like it. Come on, out you go, Prince Charles,’ Babs cooed.

She heard her mum step into the room, and even under her covers could smell the floral notes of her favourite perfume, Yves Saint Laurent’s Paris. Isabel’s dad, Gary or Gaz as he was called more often than not, bought his wife a bottle each birthday. With the knowledge her supply would be topped up annually, she sprayed each morning liberally. A split second later a dragging, scuffling commotion sounded, signalling Babs was dragging her beloved corgi from the room. The door clicked shut, and a mournful howling erupted from the hallway.

‘He’s just happy to have you home,’ Babs said.

By the proximity of her voice, Isabel knew she was standing beside the bed. At least, Prince Charles had been banished. Life was bad enough without that bloody corgi making advances. From the time he was a pup he’d decided the one true love of his life was Isabel.

‘Come on now, Izzy. Out from under there. I’ve got to head off in a minute, but I wanted to see my girl before I go.’ There was a gentle tug on the duvet. ‘I’ve brought you a cup of tea. I bet you’ve missed good old English tea. I made it extra strong and put sugar in it; there’s a plate of marmalade toast too. Dad’s already left for work, but he’ll skip footie practice tonight to be home for a proper family tea. Your favourite, pie, proper mushy peas, and mash.’

Isabel emerged from the duvet like a crumpled butterfly from its cocoon and pulled herself up to a sitting position. She’d been astounded when her dad, a self-declared couch potato and borderline obsessive Saints fan, had taken up football once more after a forty-year hiatus.

‘You’ll have to do something about that hair if you want to find yourself a job, young lady.’ Babs eyed her daughter’s hair with a frown and Isabel knew she was envisaging her with the softly waving brown locks of the Duchess of Cambridge. ‘That colour reminds me of flipping mushy peas. It’s the worst I’ve seen you with yet. Whatever possessed you to dye your hair green?’

‘I like it. It’s different.’

‘There’s nothing wrong with being normal, you know, Isabel.’

‘How’s Dad getting on with his late-life crisis?’ Distraction was the best course of action, Isabel decided, and personally, she loved mushy peas.

It worked. Bab’s sigh was as weighty as Isabel’s duvet as she shoved her hands into the pockets of her Asda-issue black pants. ‘Honestly, Izzy. That man of mine—your father. He’s doing my head in and all. Truly, as much as I love him, he comes home every Saturday afternoon moaning and groaning. He’s got a perpetual limp because he’s pulled his ruddy groin muscle or some other body part he’d forgotten he had. I tell you what though, I’m not going to rub him down with that smelly wintergreen anti-inflammatory stuff anymore. I’ve had it. I’m officially on strike. He can do it himself from now on, and I hope he forgets to wash his hands before he piddles.’

‘Mum!’ Isabel snorted.

‘Well, I mean come on, he does nothing physical for nearly fifteen years aside from lifting a few boxes at work and then decides to go and run around a muddy field, kicking a ball with a bunch of other old farts who all think they’re teenagers. It wouldn’t have crossed his mind to go and do Latin American dance classes with his wife if he felt the sudden urge to get off the settee now, would it?’

‘Ah, Mum, you know he’s got two left feet when it comes to dancing, and it could be worse. He could’ve taken up with a nubile twenty-something or gone out and put a Porsche on credit.’

‘He’d never get out of a Porsche. Too low to the ground and the twenty-something wouldn’t stick around for long, not with his recurring groin injury,’ Babs muttered.

‘Too much information.’ Isabel reached over and took a sip from the mug. The tea was strong and sweet, just how she liked it.

Her mum’s eyes narrowed as they focussed on the patch of skin on the inside of Isabel’s elbow. ‘Your eczema’s playing up I see. I hope you haven’t been scratching at it. You know it only makes it worse.’

‘I know, and I haven’t,’ Isabel lied.

‘I have a pot of your cream still in the bathroom.’ She got up and resembling the Green Lantern in her uniform whirled out of the room, reappearing a second later brandishing a tub of ointment. ‘There you go pop that on it, nice and thick. Now, I’d better make tracks. I’ll be home around two-ish, and I expect to find you showered and dressed with some good news to report.’

‘Ah come on, Mum, I only got back yesterday. You can’t expect me to go to the job centre.’

‘Oh yes, I can. You had all of yesterday afternoon and last night to recuperate. There’s no time like the present, Isabel. Strike while the iron is hot.’ Her mum’s gaze flickered to the tea and toast as she tapped her foot.

‘Thanks for breakfast.’

‘I’m glad you didn’t leave your manners behind in Australia.’ She hovered in the doorway for a moment. ‘Ah, but it’s lovely to have you home, Izzy. We’ve missed you, and as for Prince Charles, well, he’s been a lost lamb this last year.’ The bedroom door clicked shut behind her.

Lost lamb! What a load of rubbish. Isabel snorted silently. She’d seen him cavorting with his bone in the background when her mum and dad Skyped. She glanced at her tea and the plate of buttery marmalade toast; it was lovely to be home though. It had been forever since someone had brought her breakfast in bed. She opened the pot her mum had just handed to her and rubbed the greasy salve into the crook of her arm. The relief from the burning itch was instant, and she reached under the covers to deal with the patch behind her knees. It wouldn’t clear eczema up, but it would stop her scratching for a bit and running the risk of getting it infected.

She put the pot back on the bedside table and rested her head back against the pillows. She’d get up in a little while. As for the job centre, she shuddered; she couldn’t face it. Babs had never sat on a plane longer than the two-and-a-half hours it took to get from London to Benidorm. She’d give herself today to get over the seemingly endless flight home; she decided to add the job centre to her mental “I’ll do it tomorrow” list.

 

Chapter 4

 

Isabel pulled her curtains back and looked at the overcast sky outside. She’d been home two days, and it had been gloomy both of them. Might as well go for the trifecta, she thought. It didn’t matter, anyway. It wasn’t like she had plans for the beach or anything. No, today was the day she would find gainful employment. She’d visited the job centre yesterday and hadn’t had any luck. Admittedly, she’d turned her nose up at the McDonald’s job, but beggars couldn’t be choosers, and she did enjoy the odd Big Mac she told herself, trying to put a positive spin on things. If the job was still going, she’d put herself forward for it.

She set about making her bed, and as she puffed the pillows to avoid another live demonstration on pillow puffing from Babs, she recalled how she’d bumped into her old friend, Charity, yesterday. She’d been feeling flat and deflated as she left the grim, box-like building with its myriad windows when Charity had called out to her. Catching her up on a pair of heels that beggared belief, she’d hugged Isabel and said she’d heard she was back in town and had meant to text. The irony of the flippancy of a text didn’t escape Isabel; there was a time she and Charity had been inseparable.

Charity was on her lunch break, and after Isabel had admired the sparkly diamond on her friend’s finger, they’d had a somewhat awkward catch up over coffee. Now that she thought about it, Charity had monopolised the conversation. She’d been so full of the news of her engagement to a chap Isabel vaguely recalled her dragging her home from the pub the night of her going away do, to bother asking Isabel what her plans were now she was back. Still, Isabel figured it was fairly obvious she didn’t have a lot going on given she’d spotted her leaving the job centre. She wished she hadn’t agreed to meeting up for lunch today with her though. She’d never been very good at saying no. Charity hadn’t come up for air long enough to ask if she’d seen Ashley or Connor since she got back, but Isabel didn’t fancy her chances of avoiding that particular topic of conversation a second time.

The thing with having been away for a reasonable spell was that life carried on with the same day-to-day rhythms for those at home. She’d held off contacting any of her old crowd—she didn’t know where she slotted in with them anymore since she and Connor had split up. Besides which, they were all busy doing the same stuff they’d been doing before she left for Australia from what she’d seen on Instagram. She didn’t feel like the same girl she’d been a year ago and thank God for that because she’d been a bit of a mess.

Isabel couldn’t just pick up where she’d left off; she’d changed. Oh, she knew she should make an effort and organise a night out, and it would be good to have time out from her dad’s endless supply of Shrek and Kermit jokes where her hair was concerned. It wasn’t as if he was in a position to pass remark on her hair anyway, not with the state of his geriatric boy band do. The problem was she didn’t have the cash to splash on a night on the town.

The thing was with everything going around in her head the way it was at the moment she couldn’t face trying to be the life and soul of the party. Yes, she was over Connor—the time away had seen to that, and it would be satisfying to prove to her old crowd that she’d moved on. That didn’t mean she was ready to see Connor and Ashley because while her heart might have mended, they’d shattered her trust and humiliated her. She doubted she’d ever forget what had happened.

Isabel chewed her bottom lip feeling a pang for the wide, blue skies of Australia; she’d had such a good time putting her last few months in Southampton behind her and tripping about this last year. It had been marvellous to push stop on her real life, bundle all the crappy Connor and Ashley stuff up and shove it behind her as she flitted off to the sunshine. The feeling of liberation, of not having to make any serious decisions about anything other than where she’d like to swan off to next was one she’d relished.

For one whole blissful year, Isabel had not had to question what she wanted to do with her life or where she wanted to be. The unsettling feeling of not quite fitting into the hole she found herself in had vanished. It had returned with a vengeance now though as had the big grey cloud that had settled on top of her since making her promise to Ginny.

A hot shower would fix her, she told herself, tripping over Prince Charles who’d taken up residence on the floor outside her bedroom door. He was nonplussed as she lay sprawled in front of him on the carpet and despite her expletives, his tail thumped at the sight of her. He roused his head from where it had been resting on his front paws, and his tongue lolled forth in anticipation of a tummy scratch or at the very least a pat from the light of his life. ‘You don’t deserve it; I could have broken my flipping neck.’ Isabel stated as she gave him a fuss. His little woof signalled he was listening, but if he was true to form, he’d pay no attention whatsoever to what she’d just said.

‘Right, I’ve got to have a shower. I can’t be tickling you on the tum all day.’ She got to her feet ignoring his plaintive whine as she headed into the bathroom. A few moments later she stood under the hot water. It stung the raw patches of skin, but it was having a restorative effect on her mind. As the minutes ticked by, she was glad her dad was at work otherwise he’d be hammering on the door. Her lengthy showers had always managed to rouse him from the couch. He’d launch himself up the stairs at a surprising rate of knots for someone who liked to profess his golden years were within his line of sight. As such he’d tell Isabel, he should be able to enjoy them without his only child giving him grief.

Watching the water swirl down the drain, Isabel pondered her lot. She’d hoped that after her year of picking up work here and there in Australia, she might be closer to figuring out what she wanted to do with herself once she got home, but she wasn’t. And, now here she was trying to find work that was simply a means to an end once more. She felt as though she’d gone around in a great big circle as she squeezed a dollop of shampoo into her palm, lathering it up in her hair.

She was officially over a quarter of a century, twenty-six years old and life was bloody complicated. When she was little, everything had seemed so simple. ‘I’m going to be a singer when I grow up, Mum,’ she’d state, and hairbrush in hand, pretending it was a microphone, she’d sing along to the hit parade. Back then she’d believed that anything was possible. She’d had so much confidence as a child, but as she’d entered her teens, she’d developed an awkwardness and shyness that had stomped all over that belief in her abilities.

Oh, she could sing, she knew that, but it wasn’t enough, not in this digital age where anybody could be famous so long as they had the self-assurance to put themselves out there. Isabel did not like to be centre stage; she liked to fly under the radar. Singing anywhere other than the shower was not for her. Her form mistress at school had summed her up in her leaving report.

Isabel is a quiet girl, with a very sensitive nature. She shows promise but needs to learn to put herself forward.

It was a nice way of saying she was one of life’s worriers and a wallflower. Her response to this had been to colour her hair. It was the most startling thing about her. The colours she chose were a point of difference that allowed her to stand out in her quiet way.

She began rinsing the shampoo out squeezing her eyes shut to avoid the suds. The problem was she’d never had a Plan B; she was going to be a famous singer, and that was that. Thus she’d spent her working career to date picking up a series of jobs, which did not offer much in the way of prospects.

It wasn’t just knowing what direction she wanted to take that had her feeling edgy though. It was that bloody promise to Ginny; she couldn’t focus on anything else. She knew she needed to find work. That was today’s plan after all, but shouldn’t she at least try to find this Constance woman? Didn’t she owe Ginny that much at least?

She wiped the water from her eyes and turned the handle around to “off”. She had a basket full of dirty laundry to tackle before she went anywhere and stepping out of the shower, she dried herself off. She’d spruce herself up later because first things first, she thought slipping into slouch pants and a sweatshirt she’d make the most of the house being empty and put her favourite Andrea Bocelli CD on.

That Isabel loved opera was an enigma to her parents who had every record Bruce Springsteen ever made. She liked other more dancey stuff too, but there was something magical about opera. The power in the singers’ voices never ceased to amaze her. Andrea was her favourite and had been since she was seventeen when she’d seen a Christmas concert special he’d recorded. Being a huge fan was not something she owned up to often, and her dad liked to tease her by following her about the house pretending to be Pavarotti.

Both parents used to drive her mad on a Friday night when under the influence of lager and Babycham they’d dig out their old Springsteen albums. Dad would don a red bandana and an air guitar while Mum would pretend to be Patti Scialfa. As a teenager, to watch her parents carry on had been cringeworthy, but now the memory made her smile and grinning she hit “play”.

“Time to Say Goodbye” filled the house as she set about making herself some breakfast.

The morning had disappeared by the time Isabel had sorted out her washing and, sitting down at the kitchen table, she opened her laptop. It wouldn’t do any harm to check out the ferry timetable and fares to the Isle of Wight; she’d tidy herself up in a minute.

‘Ooh, my feet are bloody well killing me. What are you looking at, Izzy?’ Babs Stark asked from the kitchen doorway. She was knackered having done the weekly shop at the end of her shift, and she was eager for the good news that her daughter had, in the ensuing hours since she’d left for work, found herself gainful employment. She dumped the two bags full of groceries down on the floor and shooed the hopeful Prince Charles away. ‘Get your nose out; there’s nothing in there for you. He’d live on fillet steak that one, given half a chance.’

At the sound of her mum’s voice, Isabel jumped and snapped shut the cover of her laptop. She hadn’t heard the front door. She swung around to face the Southampton Inquisition she knew she was in for.

‘What are you up to, Isabel Stark?’ Her mum’s eyes narrowed. ‘Gemma from work says she can always tell if her fella’s looking at things he shouldn’t be on the computer by the way he slams the lid shut whenever she walks in the room.’ She nudged the persistent Prince Charles away from the shopping bags with her foot. ‘At least I don’t have to worry about your father getting up to no good; he doesn’t even know how to switch the bloody thing on.’ She gazed hard at her daughter. ‘You’ve got a guilty look on your face. Is it boy trouble?’

Isabel snorted. ‘Mum, I’m twenty-six not fourteen and no it’s not.’

‘Isabel when you have children of your own, and that is a big when, you will understand that your baby is always your baby. So, come on then spill, what is it?’

Isabel took a deep breath and fought the urge not to scratch at her arm. She knew stress was exacerbating the problem. The only people who knew about the awful afternoon on the outskirts of that South Island town were those that were there and Father Joyce. It was all bubbling up inside her again now though. She needed to talk to someone and Helena had not mentioned the accident since she’d arrived home; her Facebook messages were filled with fun times being had at home in Freyburg catching up with friends and family. Isabel had not wanted to put a dampener on her homecoming by telling her friend that she simply could not put the accident behind her.

‘Right, I’ll put the kettle on and you, young lady, had better spill the beans as to what is going on.’

It was all the prompting needed. In one big burst, while her mum busied herself making a brew and cutting generous slices from her homemade fruit loaf she was convinced fixed everything, Isabel told her all about how she’d given her word to the dying Ginny. When she’d finished, Babs brought two steaming mugs over to the table and a plate of the buttered loaf. She put them down and held out her arms to wrap Isabel up in a cuddle that smelt faintly of her morning dousing of Paris and the baking counter behind which she worked. Isabel inhaled deeply feeling like she had when she was a little girl and a cuddle from her mum had meant that everything would be okay.

‘Right then, my girl, you need to decide what you’re going to do,’ Babs said, giving her daughter’s back a rub. ‘The way I see it is you’ve two choices. You can put what happened behind you and move on, starting by finding yourself some work because you know what I always say, a busy mind is a healthy mind. Or, you can try to set about finding Constance, whoever she may be, if she’s still alive. You said this Ginny woman was ninety-something, Iz, it’s not all that likely.’

Isabel’s voice was muffled against her mum’s chest. ‘I want to go to the Isle of Wight and see if I can find her and if she’s still alive, which I know given Ginny left the island in the late forties is unlikely, I can pass her message on. And if she’s dead, well, at least I tried. Mum, you and dad always taught me that a promise is a promise.’ She hadn't known for certain that this was what she wanted to do until the words popped out of her mouth but as she’d just told her mum a promise was a promise.

‘Oh, Izzy, I had a feeling that’s what you’d say.’ Babs disentangled herself from her daughter and scanning the plate, she picked up the thickest slice of fruit slice.