Hi guys! We have Charlie Cochrane popping in today with her new release Count the Shells, we have a great excerpt and a fantastic giveaway so check out the post and leave a comment to enter the giveaway! <3 ~Pixie~
Count the Shells
Michael Gray returned from World War One injured, but at least he returned. Others were not so fortunate, including his first and greatest love, Thomas Carter-Clemence, with whom Michael had parted bitterly before the conflict began.
Broch, the Carter-Clemence home in Porthkennack, was an integral part of pre-war holidays for the Grays, the two families drawn together in the wake of their sons’ friendship. Returning to the once-beloved Cornish coast for a break with his sister and her family, Michael has to find the courage to face old memories . . . and dare new relationships.
When Thomas’s brother Harry makes an unexpected appearance, Michael is surprised to find himself deeply attracted to Harry for his own sake. But as their relationship heats up, it unearths startling revelations and bitter truths. Michael must decide whether Harry is the answer to his prayers or the last straw to break an old soldier’s back.
Count the Shells is the story which completely astounded its author in the telling. I had no idea when I sat down to write it that the straightforward historical romance I’d envisaged would turn out to have a plot twist which transformed the story into possibly the best tale I’ve ever crafted.
“Count the shells, please, Uncle Michael.”
“As you’ve asked so nicely, Richard, I will. Un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq.” Michael Gray smiled indulgently at his nephew as he laid down each limpet shell in turn. He picked them up to lay them down again, one by one. “Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco.”
Richard Cavendish scooped them into a pile, dropping them into Michael’s hands with a plea for him to count again. Nothing changed; children throughout time must have enjoyed repetition of their favourite things. Michael tipped his hat forward, shading his eyes against a sun that was beating fiercely down on the beach and performing dazzling dances on the sea. He’d always loved the beaches on the Porthkennack headland, since he could first remember coming here as no more than a toddler. This area had always been a place of refuge, of comfort, of hope.
“Uncle?” Richard tapped his arm.
“Sorry, old man. I was woolgathering. Where was I? Yan, tan, tethera, pethera, pimp.” He laid the last shell down with a flourish of his hand, like a conjuror performing a trick.
Richard burst into giggles. He always liked the sheep-counting style best of all the ones Michael used. “Again, please.”
“Yan, tan, tethera, pethera, pimp.” Michael, stifling a yawn, spoke the words slowly and pompously this time, lining up the shells like a colonel inspecting his troops. The mewing of gulls, the susurration of the waves—he’d almost forgotten how soporific sounds of the seaside could be.
“Are you tired, Uncle Michael? Is it your leg?” Richard was the only one in the family who referred casually to his wound, with a child’s typical candour.
“No, the leg’s fine.” He’d come out of things a lot better off than many of his comrades. The thing functioned pretty well, despite being pockmarked where they’d taken all the shrapnel out, although his foot looked a mess where the little toe had gone. He couldn’t—and wouldn’t—complain. “Simply the effect of the local beer I had last night, making me a bit sluggish. Don’t tell your mother.”
“I promise I won’t.” Richard put his hand on his heart while making the vow. “Will you do the ‘Einz vie’ one?”
“Eins, zwei,” Michael replied, automatically. He’d known this was going to happen, and he couldn’t refuse the request, not without having to tell a lie about why it upset him. Just saying he couldn’t use the language of his once-enemy wasn’t enough; it wasn’t true, anyway. The words had acquired new connotations in his mind, over the years, connotations Richard might never understand.
Michael collected all the shells, took a deep breath, then began to lay them down one by one.
Number one was Thomas. Thomas Carter-Clemence. Eins. One. The first. Never to be forgotten, even after they’d parted in such a dramatic fashion, with the mother of all rows, the spring of 1909.
That would be Laurence; Laurie, as Michael had preferred to call him, especially in the heat of passion, when “Laurence” seemed so ridiculously formal. Simple remembrance of those times brought a prickle to the back of Michael’s neck.
Jimmy. No, not him; Jimmy hadn’t been the third. Michael had forgotten Freddie.
Freddie was third. Or maybe third and fifth, because he’d been an extra station on the line of romance when Michael and Laurence had suffered a temporary estrangement. A station which had been passed through and left behind when Michael and Laurence had made things up again, then revisited when their paths had crossed years later. He had no idea where Freddie was now, couldn’t begin to say whether he was alive or dead, or whether he remembered that fleeting, if chilly, night by the river at Maidenhead or the equally fleeting, if warmer, encounter in Brighton.
Time to lay down another shell, before Richard became suspicious of the silence. He might be still a child, but he possessed a startling maturity of awareness and an unnerving habit of speaking his mind.
The fourth one was Jimmy: bright, lively, and first seen pulling pints. Michael had been on a couple of days leave in London and gone for a drink in . . . What had that pub been called? Frustrating that he couldn’t remember, even though he recalled every minute of the night they’d spent together.
Little Wilfred. They’d met in Scarborough, fleetingly, in a stationer’s of all places. Shared a joke, shared a glance, shared an appreciation of a particularly fine pen. Shared a bed, sort of, briefly.
“There isn’t another shell, Uncle.” Richard shook his head indulgently, as though he were dealing with Lily, his three-year-old sister.
Michael jolted. He’d been far away, among lovers, mud, and metal shells.
“Sorry about that, old man. Got carried away. Discount sechs.” Lucky that Richard was too young to get the play on words. No sixth shell and no sixth bloke as of yet. Discount sex indeed, at least for the time being. It would happen when it happened, although how long he’d be prepared to wait was a moot point. Freddie had been an act of desperation, as had Wilfred. Always a dangerous game to play when you weren’t sure of the ground you were playing on.
“Can we paddle?” Richard tugged at Michael’s sleeve.
“Of course we can.” Barefoot already, so they could enjoy the sensation of sand between their toes, they scampered down to the sea as spontaneous as a pair of children, to splash among the shallows.
“Do you like the seaside or the city best?” Richard posed the question as solemnly as a bishop might when addressing confirmation candidates.
“Seaside, naturally. Much more freedom here.” The hustle and bustle of crowded streets no longer appealed. Not like the lapping of the waves at his feet and the mewing of gulls overhead. “What about you?”
“What a silly question. Here!” Richard flicked water with his toes as they walked along the waterline. “I wish I could be on holiday every day, rather than going to school to learn algebra and grammar.”
“It’s a burden that has to be borne, old man. Same for me when I was your age.”
“But why has it got to be learned about? Do you ever use algebra?”
“Can’t say I do, much. But I couldn’t do without grammar. I say. What’s that?” Michael stopped by a mound of rocks, where little pools of trapped water promised boyish delights. He reached beneath the surface of one to draw out something green and glistening.
“A bottle of course.” Richard shook his head at such dim-wittedness.
“Ah, but is it an ordinary bottle or a magic one? If we rub it will a genie come out and grant us three wishes? And how would we divide them if he did?”
Richard frowned; clearly neither algebra nor grammar held the answer to that. “One each and one for mother,” he stated, at last, and with a conviction that could brook no argument. “None for Lily because she’s too young to use them sensibly.”
“You’re probably right.” Would Richard ever regard his sister as being old enough to act sensibly? “I like that way of dividing them. What would you wish for? All the sweets in the shop?”
Richard giggled, looking exactly like his mother when she was the same age. “That’s the kind of thing Lily would want. I’d wish an end to algebra or grammar lessons for any boys forever. What about you?”
“I’m not sure. You’ve taken care of the school stuff, already.”
“I know what mother would wish for,” Richard said, suddenly serious.
“And what’s that?” Michael asked, attention only half on his nephew, the other half considering what he would do if really presented with the opportunity to make that wish. To have such power—the responsibility would be overwhelming.
“She’d wish for all the soldiers who were hurt in the war to be whole again.”
“Oh.” Michael, unable to say anything further, kept his gaze straight out at sea. Maybe if he concentrated extremely hard, he could keep at bay the tears that threatened to unman him.
“Yes, and she’d wish for the dead to come home too.”
The only safe reply was a simple nod. Michael thought of the shells he’d just counted, the parade of names. How could he trust himself not to break down, to blurt out that roll call, then have to provide a backstory to each of them? Richard had the knack of making all his defences too relaxed to work effectively.
“Don’t you think that’s a good idea?”
Michael forced a reply. “I think it’s excellent. What a shame it’s only an empty bottle with nothing in it.”
“Yes. Fairy tales never come true, I suppose.”
“No. That’s one of the sad things you learn in life, alongside the algebra.”
Richard made a disdaining face, although whether that was at the algebra or the fairy tales, Michael couldn’t tell. “It issad. Otherwise we could have wished home your friend Thomas.”
“Thomas?” Having just recovered his composure, Michael felt unmanned again, the waves beating more violently about him than they’d done previously—or was that simply the rushing of blood in his ears? He steadied himself with a hand on his nephew’s shoulder.
“Are you feeling ill, Uncle? Come on, back up the beach.” Richard took his hand, leading him like a small child.
“It’s only a touch of something. Made me feel odd for a moment. Dizzy.” He managed a smile. “Probably that beer last night.”
“Mother says people shouldn’t drink too much. So does Father.”
“They’re right.” Eric would be giving his professional point of view, being a medical man. “And last night I was a good boy and only had one pint. I probably had a dirty glass.”
“I won’t snitch.”
“Good man.” They’d reached the place where they’d made their little camp of towels, shoes and shells; Michael settled himself on a flat rock, then took a deep, steadying breath. Caroline never discussed the war in his presence, or those who’d been lost in it, but she must be ready to discuss it with her family when he wasn’t there. And mention quite freely those people she never spoke to him about.
“You’ve got a better colour now. You were as white as if you’d seen a ghost.”
“Not quite.” Not seen, merely thought of one. “Thanks for playing nurse. We should get ourselves home or we’ll be in trouble.”
By the time they’d dried their feet and got their shoes and socks back on, Michael had pulled himself together enough to ask, “How did you know about Thomas? Has your mother been talking about the time he yanked her pigtail?”
“No. Did he really?” Richard’s eyes widened. “He must have been very brave to do that.”
“I suspect it was a case of foolhardy rather than brave. He regretted it afterwards.” Michael could just about smile again in remembrance of those fond, silly adventures from that summer of emerging manhood, when Thomas had first come to visit the Gray family and left a never-to-be-erased mark on everyone’s hearts.
“Mother has a picture of you and him, at home. Did he always have funny hair?”
“He certainly did. I never knew anybody who looked more like the scullery maid had upended him and used him for a mop.” Especially after they’d been playing tennis. Or in the morning, after a night in which it had been tousled by passion.
“Was he a good friend? Do you miss him?” Richard was wearing his serious face again, his ever-changing thoughts and emotions plainly displayed.
“Yes and yes.” Michael concentrated on sorting out a nonexistent knot in his laces. “He was my very best friend at school. Like that rascal George you hang around with.”
Richard giggled. “George isn’t so bad. He has three older sisters, poor thing.”
“Then he deserves a medal.”
George was supposed to be with them, but a mysterious rash had struck his family and he’d been quarantined along with his sisters. Once the all clear was given, he’d be allowed to travel down, and until then, Michael was doing his avuncular duty to the best of his ability.
He held out his hand. “Come on. Home. Or we’ll be court-martialled.”
Read more at: https://riptidepublishing.com/titles/count-the-shells (just click the excerpt tab)
Welcome to Porthkennack, a charming Cornish seaside town with a long and sometimes sinister history. Legend says King Arthur’s Black Knight built the fort on the headland here, and it’s a certainty that the town was founded on the proceeds of smuggling, piracy on the high seas, and the deliberate wrecking of cargo ships on the rocky shore. Nowadays it draws in the tourists with sunshine and surfing, but locals know that the ghosts of its Gothic past are never far below the surface.
This collaborative story world is brought to you by five award-winning, best-selling British LGBTQ romance authors: Alex Beecroft, Joanna Chambers, Charlie Cochrane, Garrett Leigh, and JL Merrow. Follow Porthkennack and its inhabitants through the centuries and through the full rainbow spectrum with historical and contemporary stand-alone titles.
Check out Porthkennack Universe!
As Charlie Cochrane couldn’t be trusted to do any of her jobs of choice—like managing a rugby team—she writes, with titles published by Carina, Samhain, Bold Strokes, MLR and Cheyenne.
Charlie’s Cambridge Fellows Series of Edwardian romantic mysteries was instrumental in her being named Author of the Year 2009 by the review site Speak Its Name. She’s a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Mystery People, International Thriller Writers Inc and is on the organising team for UK Meet for readers/writers of GLBT fiction. She regularly appears with The Deadly Dames.
Connect with Charlie:
- Blog: livejournal.com/
- Twitter: @charliecochrane
- Facebook profile page: com/charlie.cochrane.18
- Goodreads: com/goodreadscomcharlie_cochrane