Author's Note: Oh my goodness, I didn't realise it's been nearly a year since my last update! You are such patient readers, and I want to thank you for your supportive comments both here and on AO3! I've said it before and I'll say it again, I never expected anyone to read it as it's such a niche fandom, but you've far exceeded my expectations and left me such lovely reviews. I apologise for the long delay, but in return, here's a 15,000 word chapter - which is probably the total of quite a lot of my other stories combined! And I'm part way through the next chapter...I'll try not to let it drag on so long again.


SEA


Mrs. Mannering had promised not to say that Bill had been there, in case it meant danger to him. But she was so heavy and sleepy that day, that she really began to wonder if Bill had actually been there at all, or if she had dreamt it.

- The Sea of Adventure


January 9th, 1947

[Journal entry - Alison Mannering]

Little Miss Socks has settled herself in quite nicely, thank you very much. I made enquiries over the Christmas holidays and into the New Year but no one seems to want to claim her, and she certainly doesn't seem to be worried about it. I'm becoming rather attached to her - a little too attached perhaps - and I dread the day someone knocks at the door and wants her back. I wondered if she would leave the day the children went back to school but even when they were here it was my bed she slept on at night and my lap she made herself comfortable on during the evenings, and she's still here.

Tonight, however, she's decided to abandon me. Not having heard from Bill, I assumed he was still away and hoped that he would call soon and ask to stay. But when I came home from the office, the lights were on and I briefly wondered if Hilda had forgotten to lock up before he opened door and ushered me in out of the cold and rain. (He's admitted since that he loves to surprise me, and to be honest those sort of surprises are quite welcome.) I cooked him some dinner and we retired to the front room where the little madam promptly got up from her spot by the fire, stretched, and sauntered over to him where she decided to curl up and sleep on his lap.

His face was a picture, but soon enough he was stroking her absently as we talked, her soft purring a soundtrack to our discussions. I will admit right now that the sight of his large, strong hands gently stroking a tiny little thing such as Socks did some rather unidentifiable things to my insides, but then Bill's mere presence has started making me act and feel like a young girl with her first crush again so I'm fast becoming resigned to the fact I may be falling for him. Understanding whether or not the feelings might be mutual is a little trickier, and I'm forever trying to remind myself not to get in too deep without knowing if I'm setting myself up for a fall, but then every time we sit together and talk (or find time to have telephone conversations that last well into the night and must cost him a fortune, insisting as he does that it's him that calls me) we fall into a comfortable routine of every day chat and then more personal, deeper topics. I've learnt about his past, his youth (a little mis-spent, it should be known), his parents, and his broken engagement. In turn, I've felt able to talk to him about John, my early years with Polly, and going from education immediately into motherhood.

What's amazing is that he doesn't judge me for any of my decisions. Time and time again, I've confided in Polly yet felt that she is a little reserved in expressing her emotions or support for me. I wanted to continue after my arts degree and perhaps become an historian, a restorer...anything along that vein. But I'd met John and we married early on, with me barely finishing my education before finding out I was pregnant with Philip. Having him and then Dinah are the best things that have ever happened to me and I wouldn't change that for anything, but I do wonder what would have happened had we waited for a while. And in my conversations with Bill, he just listens, and reassures me. For once, I feel I have validity. And that truly is a gift.


January 12th, 1947

[Personal journal entry - Det. Insp. Cunningham]

Just got back from a few days with Allie. Probably should have warned her I was going to drop by and take her up on her standing offer of company and a room, but I love to see her face when I turn up on her doorstep and she's not expecting me. It's almost like a test; if those lovely eyes don't light up at the sight of me, I'll stop myself from getting too entangled with that family. But I don't know what I was worrying about. Let myself in (without the key, much to her amusement) on Thursday and made her jump a little when I opened the door to her after she returned from work, and she stood on the porch step, dripping wet but with a delighted smile. Had the opportunity to hold her for a moment when she'd taken off her coat and put her arms around me in greeting, and neither of us seemed to want to pull away. Made me think back to when we met up late November. She's so petite and fits perfectly in my arms.

That first night she cooked us dinner and we just sat and talked, falling into our usual companionable chat. The cat that seemed to have adopted them was still there and spent the evening on my lap. Cute little thing, just curled herself up into a ball and purred whenever I stroked her. Allie said she's surprised that Socks isn't more attracted to Philip, as most animals are, but maybe she's just bonded with Allie. I know if I were a cat I'd much prefer to sleep on her bed than with Philip and Jack, but then I am biased.

Allie needed to go to the office with Fran, her assistant, on Friday but I had paperwork I needed to catch up on so Socks kept me company until Allie got back. Surprised her with a dinner (not sure she believed me when I'd told her I could cook) and then gave her the Christmas present I'd bought her last year. I'd sent her a pretty brooch I found on my travels when I sent the kids theirs but then found the sketchbook and bits I'd put in a safe place - so safe I'd forgotten it was there. She was over the moon, and she sat and sketched for a bit, letting me watch her as she drew Socks and various objects round the room and then making me hold still while she sketched me. She's brilliant. She said she was a little rusty but she's far better than even she realises, and I envy her that talent.

Took her out Saturday - there's a small cinema in the larger town almost an hour away - so I treated her to a film and then dinner. She'd overslept that morning and came down whilst I was making breakfast looking a little rumpled and bleary-eyed despite her pretty dress and make-up, and it took everything I had not to gather her up and kiss her senseless. But she did stay close to me whilst we wandered the town; first slipping her arm through mine and then towards the end of the evening letting me entwine our fingers. Felt like we were young lovers, out on a date (which, to some extent, I guess it was - me trying to court her), but I'm still leery about taking that next step. Louise said ages ago Allie is very shy and although I don't feel she's shy around me any more I don't want to upset this fine balance we have between being friends in front of the kids and maybe a little more in private.

Funny, but I'm finding my flat too silent and empty, after being at Allie's for only a few nights. Missing the quiet companionship of an evening where she's sketching and I'm reading, with the radio on low in the background and Socks trying to decide which one of us to sleep on (ending up stretching over the two of us and necessitating Allie moving closer to me so the little ball of fur doesn't fall into the gap between us). Rang her to let her know I was back safe and she seemed quiet, admitting she felt the cottage was too empty as well.

Feel like I'm turning into a romantic fool because of this young woman; but also not minding it at all.


April 16th, 1947

[Letter from Daniels & Son to Alison Mannering]

Dear Mrs. Mannering

Further to your recent enquiries about a possible gallery space, please see enclosed details for a property in town. The landlord is currently having to complete renovations on the place as the previous business tenants caused some damage. The floor space is a good size for a gallery, and it is in an excellent location just off the High Street with similar footfall. Above are two small offices which can be included in the rent if required; otherwise the landlord is happy to rent them separately.

If this is of interest to you, please let us know. Any work you may require to fit the property out can be done by the landlord at a negotiable price.

Sincerely,

J. Daniels,

Director,

Daniels & Son Estate Agents


April 26th, 1947

[Journal entry - Alison Mannering]

It's days like these that I really feel like I'm on my own. The children came home for the holidays only a few days ago, and almost immediately I could tell something was wrong with Philip. He wasn't his usual cheerful self, and was picking fights with Dinah over the smallest things, as well as snapping at the rest of us. His eyes were unusually bright and when I took his temperature it was rather elevated. There were red patches on his face and neck - which I initially thought were from his temperature - that after a night's sleep revealed themselves to be the early stages of measles. None of the others had had measles before, so soon after I had an entire household of ill children.

Unfortunately Polly has managed to convince Jocelyn to take a short break, and I believe Paul and Louise are away in Cornwall for a while, so I can't ask for help from them. Even Bill has been silent since the beginning of April so I can't ring him up and just talk to him; a simple thing that seems to help whenever I'm feeling stressed or worried. Not having another pair of hands just to help me leaves me feeling particularly lonely, and although I have little time to think at the moment as I'm looking after my four invalids, I'm finding the evenings leave me a little low.

The doctor thinks it won't take too long to clear up but he's been strict about ensuring everyone is quarantined and I think he may even refuse to let them go back to school immediately term starts again. Thankfully Fran is being wonderful and holding down the fort - even with Hilda's help I can't cope with the household and work at the same time - especially with the negotiating for both the new gallery and a new project the local council proposed.

I wish there was someone to talk to, other than little Socks. She seems to have picked up on the mood in the house and spends some time each evening letting Lucy-Ann cuddle her until she's asleep, and then comes in with me. She's not even at the bottom of the bed any more; she spends more time curled up on the other pillow so it's wonderful to wake up in the morning and see her little face peering at me. If only she could talk.


May 1st, 1947

[Advert placed in local newspaper by Alison Mannering]

Governess wanted. Temporary, short-term position. Immediate start.


May 7th, 1947

[Personal journal - Det. Insp. Cunningham]

Hate it when I have to go to ground. Feels like I've done something wrong; being removed from active service for a while until everything dies down. I get that it's for my own safety but I'd always much rather be out there in the midst of things than going into hiding with my tail between my legs. But fair's fair. Been chasing this gang of gun-runners for a while. HQ got wind there was someone smuggling them into various European countries - us included - and I headed up the team in search of them. Apparently I got a little too close for comfort, and they spooked, but not before killing one of my guys and somehow identifying me. (HQ looking into possibility of moles. Was undercover and disguised.) Lo and behold, they put out a hit on me.

HQ took the decision to send me away until either they stop looking for me or we shut them down. I have to trust the guys and let them do their job, no matter how much I hate walking away.

Rang Allie yesterday. As I don't know how long I'd have to disappear for, I wanted to be able to say my goodbyes. That would have hurt the most; not being in contact with her or the kids. Feel like our relationship is moving along a little but it would have been a huge setback. Didn't say much, but she knew it was me immediately. I needed to get down there, see them, and get out without being seen. God forbid I led anyone to her door; I'd never have forgiven myself if she or the kids were hurt and this gang is ruthless.

But I was willing to risk it just to see her one last time. Rather twisted.

Got down there late. I'd told Allie not to wait up knowing that she still would, but I guess it was just too late for even her as the house was dark. Getting in was fun; the boys apparently stayed awake and Philip came looking for me...getting thrown into the dirt by yours truly because we both thought each other was the enemy. We managed to sort it pretty quickly and I crashed in with the boys for the night. I was extremely aware that she was only down the hall and it was a test of my strength to not go and knock on her door and wake her up just to see her.

The next morning heralded bad news - the kids had apparently had a bout of measles and although they were all clear, Allie had come down with them. I knew I was safe, but I felt for her. Measles as a kid is not fun; measles as an adult is downright awful. We had breakfast after she'd spoken to Dinah and when the daily arrived I hotfooted it upstairs with some tea and toast for Allie to have a chat with her. She looked drained, cuddled into a dressing gown with Socks stretched out lazily by her side, but her face still lit up when she saw me.

"Oh, Bill, we were so worried about you." She reached for my hands when I'd set the tea and toast down and sat on the bed next to her. It was nice to hold her hands again; a simple touch I'd missed whilst away.

We spoke for a long while. Told her very vaguely what was going on (mainly because I couldn't due to the ongoing investigation but also I didn't want to worry her and add to her illness) and although she was upset, she understood. She was pleased when I told her what the kids had suggested - the failed governess interviews and the accident of her friend meant they would be stuck at home and make her feel worse - and coming with me as I 'disappeared' to a remote island would kill two birds with one stone. Figuratively.

Also asked her to look after some documents for me. She doesn't know it yet, but recent events have got me feeling a little mortal, and so I've made sure that all my affairs are in order. If something does happen to me, she has a copy of some important documents including my will, which leaves everything (except a few bits for my aunt and cousins) to her and the kids. They've become a big part of my life and I want to make sure they're looked after if I'm not around to do it. But I told her none of that, and she simply assumed they were work documents and had me put them in the little safe she keeps in her wardrobe.

She started to doze off after a while despite her best efforts, and I promised I'd come and see her before I left. Spent the day locked in the spare room making calls and organising with HQ and the Commissioner (who has apparently placed bets on something happening), and it wasn't until dusk when Hilda popped out and the doctor had been and gone that I emerged. The kids were excited about the trip and it took me a while to restore some form of order. Hilda would be staying to keep an eye on Allie and Fran would be coming the next day to organise the kids for our night train journey.

Went back in to see Allie for as long as I could before I left. She was feeling warm, her cheeks showing signs of her temperature and the medicine the doctor had left was making her extremely drowsy but she was making an obvious effort to stay awake. Made myself comfortable sat next to her on top of the covers with her by my side and spoke for a while longer. Seemed like she had realised that it was fairly serious for me to be going to ground like this. Didn't really know what to say but she begged me to stay safe - both for the kids and for my own wellbeing - and when she went silent I put my arm around her to reassure her. Must have been a good hour or so that we stayed like that, talking about everything and nothing. Felt like we were in our own little world, undisturbed by the kids and with Socks curled up asleep on my lap; had Allie not finally dozed off in my arms I'd have found it extremely difficult to leave. Hilda had returned so I tucked Allie back up, left a note for the kids and made my way home under cover of darkness. I'd see them the next day, to catch a train to the remotest parts we could find.


May 10th, 1947

[Wireless transmission to Alison Mannering from Det. Insp. Cunningham via HQ]

On islands. Plenty of birds. Kids happy. Take care.

[Wireless transmission to Det. Insp. Cunningham from Alison Mannering via HQ]

Give children my love. No adventures. You take care too.


May 13th, 1947

[Inter-departmental message from Special Branch to Commissioner Forbes]

Lost contact with Y4. Advise.

[Inter-departmental message from Commissioner Forbes to Special Branch]

Allow 48 hours. Possible weather interference. If not, send team. Regular updates required.


May 15th, 1947

[Journal entry - Louise Temple]

I always find May to be the month that heralds the advent of summer; the comfortably warm days promising the endless sunshine and heat of July and August. This year, May seems to be even warmer than usual. The few weeks Paul and I spent down in Cornwall felt more like mid-July - the sea was warm enough to swim in regularly and we spent more time on the beach than we expected to. The waters were a stunning turquoise blue with green depths and the flowers were out in full force - truly a beautiful place to take a well-deserved rest. I think even Paul allowed himself to relax fully and not let himself worry over his new novel or the articles he's been commissioned to write. I did manage to get some time in writing the first in the series of novels about Allie's children, much to Paul's amusement, but I really do want to get it finished soon and start on the next few whilst it goes through the publication process. They know I'm writing it but not how far along and I want to surprise them all with it when it's ready. I'm still debating over the pen name (and Paul is being less than helpful on that front) - my crime novel was written under a pseudonym so technically I'm free to use my own name - as I don't want people to make assumptions based on the fact I'm his wife. Dinah is starting to get interested in creative writing, and over the last six months or so we've been corresponding whilst she's at school; I've taken so many notes from both talking to the children, interviewing Bill and reading some of the case files that I feel I have a fairly good understanding of what happened but Dinah will read over the drafts and help tweak it. If she feels confident enough, I'll invite her to co-write the next couple with me as well - it would give her a boost to be published, just like Allie and Bill are encouraging Jack to publish a book of his photography.

Thinking of Allie, I rang her when we returned home, but strangely enough Fran - her assistant - answered, and for a moment I thought I'd dialled the wrong number until she explained that Allie was ill. Apparently she'd caught the measles from the children and while they were 'away' (Fran was rather vague about this) Allie was stuck in bed with Fran and Hilda popping in and out to keep an eye on her. Of course I immediately organised to go down and stay with her until the children got back, as I'd had measles when I was young and was immune.

Even when I got down to Allie's little cottage and was catching up with her, she was rather evasive about the children, and it wasn't until Fran and Hilda had gone that she finally opened up to me and told about Bill having to disappear and taking the children with him for a while so they could recover. The only problem was that the promised regular transmissions from Bill hadn't been as regular as they'd hoped, and apparently the department had contacted her that day to admit they hadn't heard anything from him whatsoever for nearly two days. She was rather resigned to the fact they were possibly missing yet again, but knowing Bill was with them reassured her more than usual.

Hopefully it won't be too long before there's more news. I rang Paul and he's promised to contact Sir Graham, and get as much information as he can but the department are already ringing Allie daily to update her, even if there's nothing to update her on. The children are rather infamous in Scotland Yard and the various attached agencies, and Bill's department in particular seem to be rather fond of them and Allie. They're doing their best but without radio contact they can't get coordinates to pinpoint him in the remote islands and if something has happened...

I'd rather not think like that.


May 17th, 1947

[Journal entry - Alison Mannering]

Something rather strange happened today; strange in the sense it felt like a message from the past. Apparently Bill and the children stopped off on an island inhabited by a fisherman and his wife before they truly set off on their 'adventure', and Bill took the time to write me a letter. We'd already sent radio messages to one another, but he obviously felt he wanted to write something a little more meaningful, and it took this long to reach me due to the delay from the fisherman posting it somewhere so remote the post only gets collected once a week, and then only sorted when they feel like it. It felt strange to be reading his words of promise that the children would be fine and that he doubted that they would manage to find something to get themselves caught up in other than a few puffin nests when I full well knew something had happened and I'm seven days into not having heard a thing from them.

The letter was almost washed out; it looked like it had been dropped into the sea at some point and the ink had spread and dried. It was readable but barely - I had to copy it out before I could read it properly. I've transcribed it below even though I'll tuck it into my journal with the rest of his letters and cards. Some of his words really touched me and I truly believe that one day - however long it may take - we'll be able to look back and laugh at how long it took us to see the light. But for the moment, we're doing that dance of those not quite sure how to push the boundaries of our relationship.

I have Louise's company again and she and Hilda are doing their best to get my strength back up and distract me, but I know we're all hoping that good news comes soon. I seem to be living in a perpetual state of worry.

[Letter from Det. Insp. Cunningham to Alison Mannering - dated 9th May 1947]

Dear Allie,

I know we're sending transmissions when we can but they're having to go through HQ and I certainly don't want them to be handling any more personal messages. We've stopped on this tiny island for a night and met a fisherman and his wife who are more than happy to host for the evening (although they draw the line at Kiki so we won't be staying the night in their home). He's agreed to do me a favour and post this when he can so I honestly don't know how long this will take to reach you, but I sincerely hope it finds you well. Measles is awful and you were suffering particularly when I saw you - I've never known you to be so lethargic and I think it scared the girls a little. I've reassured them you'll be fine with some rest but I think they won't believe me until they see you for themselves.

This has all happened at a most inopportune time, and I feel terrible that we're away while you're stuck at home. To be quite honest I'd much rather that your friend was taking the kids on an expedition and I was taking you to a quiet place to look after you and ensure you get better, but then perhaps that's rather a selfish wish. I'm sorry that it's not me there with you, and I hope that Fran and Hilda are taking good care of you.

I will do my best to make sure there's nothing the kids can get themselves into. Surely on distant islands with only birds for company, all they can stumble across are plenty of birds' nests? I truly hope for all our sakes we have an uneventful time.

Before I go, I just want to say that the prospect of being here completely alone after the kids go back to you is pretty grim, but it's made even worse by the thought I can't contact you. Radio transmissions for the duration of the kids' stay will keep me going but they're short and sweet and mostly impersonal due to the constraints of the 'third party' involved. The not knowing how long I'll need to stay below the radar is the bit I hate - if I have to remain hidden for months, that's months of not being able to write you a letter, send you some flowers or just 'phone you up to hear your voice and talk over the day.

I need you to know that the documents you are looking after for me are those concerning what needs to be done if something happens to me. My solicitor is executor; he will know what to do. Please understand if something ever does happen, you and the kids are cared for. I know what you're thinking, Allie, and don't try and argue with me on this.

I wish I knew when I'll next be able to see or speak to you, but for now just know that I'm always thinking of you. Get better soon.

Yours,

Bill


May 19th, 1947

[Personal journal entry - Det. Insp. Cunningham]

Safe. Finally.

Whenever I'm with these kids, something is going to happen. I'm learning this, slowly, and although there is every hope that there will be a long period of adventure-free time, I'm also starting to accept that there is most likely one just around the corner. They seem to average one a year, which I suppose is a useful indicator.

Looking back over the last few years, these were the most dangerous. I've dealt with gangs before but they've never run me to ground and when I think of the kids (especially little Lucy-Ann) up against these guys, it sends shivers down my spine. The lack of contact with the guys was bad enough but thinking of what had been going on and Allie at home ill - most likely panicking and making herself worse - was the limit.

Official logs are up to date; gang rounded up and locked away for a good while; kids safe at home where they should be. Would like to say my job here is done and normal service resumes, but then since I technically put them in that position in the first place, Allie is well within her rights to tell me to cut all contact with the family.

But she hasn't.

While the guys came charging in to the rescue, a message was sent to Allie to let her know the kids were all right, but it was when we landed I immediately got onto the 'phone to her. To my surprise, Louise answered, and it turned out she'd been staying with Allie. Because she was still feeling rough, she wouldn't be making the journey up to meet us so would have to wait until we got down to hers the next day to see her, but she spent a short while talking to the four of them (interrupted every so often by Kiki's nonsensical murmurings) before I get hold of the receiver again. She sounded worn out and we didn't spend much time on pleasantries as it was rather late but thankfully there wasn't any hint of anger or disappointment in her tone, just relief.

The kids were exhausted, wet and cold, and we were taken to a hotel to have hot baths, change and rest. While they flaked out I did a quick debrief with the team, so it was extremely late by the time my head hit the pillow but at least I managed to get in some shut-eye (and a pretty deep one at that) before the journey today. We weren't up too early, but there was a lot of travelling ahead and the department had put on a nice car for us which made the day go that little easier. It was nearly dark by the time we reached the little cottage - which for some reason made me feel like I was truly home - but all the lights were on and I could see Socks sat in the front window as if she knew we were coming and was waiting for us.

It was Louise that opened the door but Allie wasn't far behind and suddenly the tiny hallway was full of joyful reunion. The kids piled on Allie and Kiki was fluttering around their heads squawking away until Louise managed to coax her into the kitchen to give her some treat or other. There was the usual chatter as all of them tried to speak at once and garner her attention but she stood calmly in the centre, holding them, and once again I was pulled into the group hug. From the glimpse I'd gotten of Allie before she was hidden by various bodies she looked a little pale and worn but at least she was on her feet.

No idea how it happened, but after a few minutes, Louise, Kiki and most of the kids disappeared into the front room and it was just little Lucy-Ann hanging onto the both of us for dear life. It's always a pleasure to know that you can give comfort to a child, especially one as sweet-natured as her, and both Allie and I were happy to indulge her. Particularly when it meant she was cuddled between us and I happened to have an arm around Allie, her head resting against my shoulder. Must be getting pretty soppy in my old age, as I was thoroughly enjoying the scent of the soap she uses in her hair and the feel of both of them in my arms. Allowed myself to imagine what it was like to be part of their family unit for a moment, and it was with great reluctance that I stepped away when Lucy-Ann wanted to join the others. Allie gave me one of her smiles before we entered the fray, but Louise pulled me back into the hallway.

"Allie said you'd be staying, so I've changed the sheets in the spare room and put the kettle on to boil. We had something to eat earlier but I expect you two will want to sit and talk over a hot drink later." Louise has this amazing ability to look right into you, as if she can see your essence, and I've been on the receiving end of this look a few times recently. It's where she's trying to decide if you measure up to her standards, and you find yourself hoping to God you don't fall short. She must have seen something she liked, because after a moment she nodded to herself and picked up her bag. "Look after her," she said, and then called out she was leaving so there was another pile-up in the hallway as everyone said goodbye.

We let the kids talk it out for a short while but as soon as we saw the first yawn (surprisingly, Jack was the one who set them off, with added sound effects from Kiki) we sent them off to bed. The cottage was suddenly quiet, and I busied myself with making tea whilst Allie saw them all upstairs. Was apparently concentrating hard enough on that task that I didn't hear her come in and I jumped slightly when I saw movement beside me, making her laugh.

"Why don't you go and sit down? I'll bring a tray through," I said, and she hesitated. She obviously wanted to say something and was deciding how to say it so I turned to give her my full attention.

"Bill - how dangerous was it?"

My initial inclination was to downplay it in fear of being responsible for a relapse in her health, but her hand on my arm was enough to make me give her the truth. "Pretty dangerous."

She stepped closer, touching a finger to one of the smaller, fading bruises on my face. She didn't seem surprised by it, which confused me a little until she said, "How badly did they hurt you?" It appears that Joe took it upon himself to give her a little of the information from the debrief when he rang to tell her we were on our way, and I made a mental note to have a chat with him next time I saw him.

"Allie, I'm fine. They took out their frustration on me for a short while but they had other things to worry about and they kept me out of the way. I've had far worse." Touched her cheek in return and she half-smiled. Glad she couldn't see the huge darkening area across my chest where I was convinced they'd broken a couple of ribs. Don't think they are broken now, but they've definitely bruised them.

"I was so worried. And not just about the children; you as well. When Joe told me you'd been captured..." she let out a soft sigh. "Will you tell me everything you can?"

"Of course. I'll be right with you."

She nodded, glanced at the tea, and then made her way into the other room. Wasn't long behind her, and then she sat and listened as it all came out. How the gang had been smuggling guns, how they'd managed to get the jump on me, how the kids had tricked them, discovered the guns, rescued me...I can honestly say I've never been more proud of them than when I was telling her about their decision to come and find me rather than leave me to my fate.

It was getting late, and we'd sat on the sofa together whilst we talked. Allie had curled her legs up under her and Socks was splayed out over the both of us. Sometime during the evening her head had rested back on my shoulder and my arm had found its way round hers, so we made a cosy picture. Conversation had petered out a little as we both felt the effects of the last week or so, but Allie grasped my hand and moved to look up at me, causing Socks to miaow in annoyance and stretch further onto my lap. "I received your letter."

Didn't know whether to be pleased about that or not. I wrote some pretty revealing things in there, and I still don't know where this is going. "I meant what I said, Allie. You can't argue with me about those documents - what's done is done."

She shook her head. "I'll still argue with you but I'm saving that for tomorrow when I'm a little more awake and articulate." Chuckled a bit over that; I guess I should have known telling her not to argue wouldn't stop her in any way. "No, I meant to say that I would have felt the same way."

"About?" I wanted to hold my breath but she would have felt it so I tried to remain calm. Why do I feel like a teenager trying to court a young lady?

She squeezed our entwined fingers - how did they get like that without me noticing? - and I swear she started to blush. "About not hearing from you. I would have hated it too...not being able to write to you, see you, hear your voice. Talk about silly little things. Tell you the latest gossip in the village. Know you're safe." She let out a little sigh and nestled her head back in the crook of my neck, so I just tucked her closer to my side and held her there for a while. I thought she was thinking of something else to say but it turns out she succumbed to the drowsiness and ended up dozing off on me.

Was loathe to move her, and luckily there was a pen and some paper within easy reach, so here I am scribbling down my thoughts with a little furball in my lap and a wonderful woman beside me. Will take this back and attach it to my journal but for now I'm about to carry said wonderful woman up to her bedroom before retiring to the spare room. Alone.


May 24th, 1947

[Letter from Alison Mannering to Polly Sullivan]

Dearest Polly,

I can't believe how long it's been since we last saw one another. I hope you and Jocelyn are well. We'll have to compare diaries so I can come and visit you soon.

The children are back from yet another of their adventures. I won't go into too much detail because I know it's an active investigation but suffice to say that sending them off to recuperate from the measles was probably not one of my best ideas, especially with their history of being left alone. They weren't alone - before you worry! - they were with Bill, but all I'll say is there were islands, guns and gangs involved. Thankfully they are all home and safe, including Bill. This was a tough one for him because he had a history with the gang and of course being out of contact with them all worried me dreadfully but somehow knowing he was there with them reassured me a little.

Louise came and stayed with me whilst the children were away as I unfortunately caught the measles too (I honestly thought I'd had them when we were younger, but apparently not) and then Bill stayed the night he brought the children back. They'd had a short debrief but he had to go and wrap up the investigation with his team. He admitted he'd had a rough time but it wasn't until I saw him wincing when he moved in certain ways that I realised the bruising on his face was only the start, and that he had more injuries that he was trying to hide from us. I let it slide this time but I also let him know that we worry about him as much as he worries about us.

It was lovely to see him again, Polly, the children do love him so and he's quickly becoming a part of the family. Sometimes I wish he were, and the times I spend with him on our own I cherish, but it's so hard to understand where we stand with one another and then he has to go away for a while and I'm left wondering when I'll see him again. I miss that human touch, that chemistry between a man and a woman, and the companionship. It would be nice to come home to that - it was nice to come home to that when he stayed earlier in the year. Something tells me we're on the precipice and who knows when we'll take that plunge.

In other news, we've been in negotiation over a property in town to turn into a gallery, and we are just finalising the paperwork. I don't want to get my hopes up too much before the ink dries on the contracts just in case something goes wrong, but fingers crossed in a couple of months we'll be opening. There's not much to do to the property itself; just a couple of stud walls and painting before the fittings go in but I will have to get the advertising out quickly.

I do hope we can see each other soon. Give my love to Jocelyn and take care.

Your loving sister,

Allie


May 26th, 1947

[Letter from Daniels & Son to Alison Mannering]

Dear Mrs. Mannering,

Please complete the included paperwork and return it to our office at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely,

J. Daniels,

Director,

Daniels & Son Estate Agents

[Letter from Polly Sullivan to Alison Mannering]

Dear Alison,

Well done on your gallery, I do hope that furthering your business is successful for you. Please don't stretch yourself though; one remembers what you were like when you were trying to keep your head above the water with the children.

Alison, I don't think you should pursue any further contact with this man. I appreciate his position and that the children adore him but to be quite frank he's dangerous. Yes, you are eternally grateful that he rescued the children from their own curiosity when they first met him, but ever since then their 'adventures' have become far more frequent and terrifying. It seems that he cannot just separate himself from his work and that spills over into his interactions with the children - remember last summer when those men he was chasing unknowingly kidnapped them and took them to another country? And if I understand you correctly this most recent event included guns and a gang that had no qualms in beating him. What if they had beaten the children? Or shot them? Can you really imagine a future with a man who has to disappear for months at a time; that goes out to work knowing he might not come back that day and that endangers your own children just by being near them?

You need stability. You are already a widow, you don't want to be getting involved with someone that could make you one twice over. For your own health and sanity, you must stop seeing him. You'd be much safer for it.

Your sister,

Polly


May 28th, 1947

[Journal entry - Alison Mannering]

I'm not surprised at Polly's letter. Disappointed, but not surprised. She's rather traditional and I feel sometimes a little disapproving that I choose to be a businesswoman as well as a mother. What she forgets is that I don't have a husband to bring in the money so I can stay at home and be the perfect housewife; and even then I don't think I could. I raised Philip and Dinah whilst working for so long that now I have the chance to spread my wings in the business and creative world I don't think I could ever go back to being a wife and mother and nothing else.

I know we'll lose touch for a while. This has happened before and is fairly usual...I just don't know how long it'll be for. Once it was a couple of years, but usually it's a few months at most.

Rather than dwelling, I must focus on everything good that's happened recently. We've signed the lease for the gallery and can start work immediately. There is a small team of local tradesmen that the estate agents recommend so we've contacted them for quotes on the basic construction of the stud walls, painting and some plinths and the main desk area. We gave notice to our current landlord but he generously allowed us to leave early as he had someone interested in the space and can get them in immediately so there's no loss of rent for him, which is ideal for us because we can move into the office above and continue our current business whilst overseeing the construction below.

Fran is managing most of the agency on her own at the moment (I have made a mental note to review her salary and give her a pay rise) as well as looking for gallery staff as the council asked me to be part of an advertising project for them. Normally I wouldn't take such a big project on whilst trying to keep the agency going and trying to get the gallery up and running but it's something I can do working from home if I need to (I can see myself working a lot of evenings in my near future) and the money is good so we'll have an emergency fund if something - God forbid - goes wrong. Plus it means I'm ingratiating myself with the council so we'll have contacts there. Much as I hate to admit it, I'm very aware of the old adage 'it's not what you know but who you know' and I'm not above utilising those kinds of contacts.

Bill rang me yesterday with some wonderful news; he's being promoted to Detective Chief Inspector! Apparently the powers that be (and Sir Graham) feel that his recent work warrants full recognition. He's specifically asked to have a private ceremony as he doesn't like the fuss but also because of the nature of his work. According to Bill, Sir Graham and his own superiors agreed but on the condition that the children are present, and we spent a good while speculating as to why that would be. He thinks there may be some recognition for them too, but he's not sure what. It would be lovely for them to feel like their actions are appreciated - they mainly stumble across investigations but they do end up helping.

He did seem a little distracted and I think there's a lot of work for him at the moment. He's not only a field agent but apparently in quite high demand for consultation and training. He once told me that he doesn't think he could ever retire completely, but would just walk away from field work. I don't think he'd be able to. He loves it too much, even when he comes back from a mission bruised and broken.

He told me that he'd take me away soon - if he was able to take some leave during the warmer months - he would show me his house and we'd spend some time there. I know it's not definite yet but the thought of it and the idea that we would be completely alone has already given me anticipatory butterflies.


June 20th, 1947

[Personal journal entry - Det. Ch. Insp. Cunningham]

Had my promotion ceremony earlier. Despite requesting it be as private as possible I still found I had a small audience, including Allie and the kids (at the Commissioner's request), Temple and Louise and some of my team. Apparently not only was I being promoted, but the kids were receiving an award for bravery. Technically it was for their last 'adventure' but I know that each and every time I report back to Sir Forbes with news of the kids somehow stumbling on and solving investigations, he's more and more impressed with their grit. It is about time someone recognised their bravery and honour; not just in monetary form, but in a physical representation they can look at on their walls or mantelpiece. The fact it's a pretty high civilian honour currently goes straight over their heads, but in the future I'll point out that so far there are very few recipients and maybe it'll sink in.

Press weren't allowed access to the ceremony due to the sensitive nature of my work but Louise was given permission to do a vague write-up about the kids and include images of them - they deserved some public recognition after all. While they were busy having their photos taken, I stood with Allie who looked stunning in a light, summery wrap dress. Compared to her I felt hot and stuffy in my uniform, but I'd caught her casting an appraising eye over me earlier when she thought I wasn't watching so that more than made up for any discomfort. Even some of the guys had their head turned when she first walked in and it made me even prouder to think she was there for me as well as the kids.

It wasn't long before they had to leave again. The kids had been given permission to take time away from their schools but Allie needed to get them back so she could go home and continue work on the gallery, which she says is coming along and should be ready for opening near the end of July. She's worked so hard on this place, and I can see how much it means to her. Can't wait to see it up and running.

Got back to the office and the guys started to rib me about 'mooning' over Allie...just had to remind them they weren't all innocent of it either and it shut them up for a while. Don't actually mind it if I'm being completely honest; each guy that finds his other half gets some stick and I'm just glad that I've found an amazing woman to be teased about.


July 5th, 1947

[Invitation to Det. Ch. Insp. Cunningham from Alison Mannering]

Oakley Art Galleries requests the company of Detective Chief Inspector W. Cunningham at the private view and opening night of its first exhibition, on Saturday July 26th at 7:30pm until 10pm.

(Bill - would love to see you there if you can make it. Enjoyed writing your new rank! Allie)

[Invitation to Louise and Paul Temple from Alison Mannering]

Oakley Art Galleries requests the company of Mr & Mrs P. Temple at the private view and opening night of its first exhibition, on Saturday July 26th at 7:30pm until 10pm.

(Louise - hope you're still staying! I've included some blank ones as you requested, if you know of anyone who'd be interested please do send them. Speak soon, Allie)


July 9th, 1947

[Telegram from Det. Ch. Insp. Cunningham to Alison Mannering]

Work intrudes. Will call. Promise.


July 26th, 1947

[Journal entry - Alison Mannering]

Tonight was the opening night of the gallery. It's extremely nerve wracking putting your heart and soul into a business with no idea if it will be successful, and even with the support of good friends and links to higher social circles one can never predict longevity. A lot of work went into the gallery - late nights from both myself and poor Fran, along with Beth who's my new manager and young Anne who's on board to support Beth. It's not just me (or even just Fran and me) any more; people are relying on me for income. It did look wonderful though. The artists who'd agreed to be represented solely by us had sent some wonderful pieces, and we had a couple more from some extremely well-known artists from London who had expressed interest in selling through us periodically (I believe Louise may have pulled some strings without telling me).

Louise and Paul were supposed to be coming down and staying at a local hotel, and wanted to take my staff and me out for drinks to celebrate after the viewing. Bill had sent a message saying he couldn't make it, but earlier today a stunning bouquet of flowers had been delivered to the gallery with a card from him, saying how proud he was of me and he hoped I was too. He wrote he was sorry he was missing the viewing but he would be down soon to see the gallery in full swing. I wish he were here tonight though, to celebrate with us.

Seven thirty came and went, but Louise had reminded me that people like to be fashionably late. Some of the artists had turned up and were all talking about their works, along with a couple of their agents. A lot of locals started turning up and by eight it was suddenly buzzing. Anne and Fran were supplying the drinks and canapés, and Beth was doing a wonderful job on front of house, trying her best to sell pieces and talk some more artists into working with us. I don't think I stopped, helping from behind the scenes with admin and setting the drinks and canapés ready to be collected, so I was surprised when Louise walked upstairs and told me off for not being out in the gallery. She admired the fact I'd put on the dress we'd chosen when she took me shopping (the state of my wardrobe had been dictated by the fact I had four children and I had very few dresses that could be used for business/more formal occasions). It was slightly more form-fitting than I would usually have chosen but she was right in that it made me feel feminine, even if it also made me feel self-conscious!

She coaxed me back downstairs and I said hello to Paul. They'd apparently caught a lift down with a friend who wanted to see the exhibition and he was just parking the car. As we talked, I started to recognise some of the visitors as well-known patrons of art and some of the London socialites, and when I turned to Louise she just winked at me. I think I'm going to be looking for a special thank-you present for her; she's obviously been spreading the word, and apparently when the Temples start patronising a place, everyone wants to be there.

While she and Paul wandered round on their own, I stepped back and watched. Beth was in a lively conversation with a couple who were admiring one of our larger paintings, and I could see Anne and Fran still doing the rounds, pausing to chat to people as they went. I was in a quiet corner, standing by a couple of sculptures inspired by the forms of Henry Moore when I heard a voice behind me.

"I love the juxtaposition of the simplistic figure next to the lovely young woman..."

I turned around - I'd know that voice anywhere - and Bill was standing there smiling at me. I was so pleased and surprised to see him, and he slid an arm around my waist as I kissed his cheek in greeting. "I thought you couldn't make it!"

He squeezed me a little, and Fran appeared with a glass of bubbly for us both. He accepted, but didn't start drinking, so I assumed he was driving. "I didn't think I could, but managed to finagle this evening off. I wanted to surprise you and when I heard Temple and Louise were coming down I offered to drive them here."

"Are you not staying? You're always welcome in the spare room."

"No, I have to get back later. But I couldn't miss the chance to be here at the opening!"

He wanted me to walk him round and talk to him about the art, which I was more than happy to do. He seemed very interested in it all, and was particularly taken with a small piece I had submitted myself; a sunset study over a coastline. It wasn't one of my best but I had always liked the colours (painted from memory with a little artistic license from one of the sunsets I'd seen when down at Craggy-Tops) and everyone had commented on it. I told him he should just tell me what he'd like and I'd paint it for him, seeing as he'd helped me get back into it again.

We talked to Paul and Louise for a while, and I kept getting pulled away to talk to clients, but he just waited patiently until I could join him again. Anne got a little flustered when she paused for a chat and ended up spilling two glasses of champagne (thankfully didn't break the glasses) and when she'd moved on I teased him that she'd developed a crush on him. He just looked at me with a knowing smile and winked, and then steered the subject onto something else.

All too soon, it started getting late. I'd only intended on staying open until ten or just after but it was half past by the time some people started to leave. (The walls were starting to gain red dots under some of the pieces and I was extremely happy to see just how many we'd sold - especially some of the more expensive pieces.) Bill had to go as he had to drive back to London, and after saying goodbye to the Temples he asked me to walk him to his car. He'd parked in one of the quiet residential streets behind the gallery, and it was accessed down a long alleyway between two shopfronts a few doors down from where we were. I tucked my arm into his and we walked slowly along the street and down the alleyway, him complimenting me on the successful evening, and then on my dress, laughing when I blushed. He must like to make me blush - I'm finding I do it a lot around him!

The street was fairly dark, his car in shadow between two of the street lamps and he leaned back against his car, suddenly serious. "Allie, I have to disappear again." My heart dropped. For a moment I thought he meant completely, but he rushed on, seeing my expression. "We've caught an international case. The ICPC want me undercover and I can't be contacted by anyone whilst I'm away. I even have extremely limited contact with my guys back at the offices - I can only message if it's an emergency."

I hated when he had to go away - I worry so much for him. "When do you leave?"

He sighed, resting his hands on my shoulders. "Tomorrow. I don't know how long it'll be for; it could be two weeks, two months, or even longer. I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry, Bill. It's part of your job." I smiled at him, even though I didn't feel like smiling. We'd started to get a little closer, everything tentative, and all of a sudden he'd be out of my life for an indeterminate amount of time.

"Come here." He pulled me close and wrapped his arms around me, and I rested my head on his shoulder. If that was the last contact I'd have with him for a while I was determined to take everything I could get. His warmth surrounded me and I felt secure. Bill has this presence which just seems to make everything easier for a while. Lucy-Ann has always said how she feels safe when he's near, and I know exactly what she means.

We stayed like that for a moment, both reluctant to let go, but then I thought of something. I pulled back a little and started to unpin a small marcasite brooch Dinah had given me a little while ago, in the shape of an 'A'. Bill watched me, a little bemused, until I pinned it to the collar of his coat, and smoothed it down. "Something of me to take with you," I said, and he looked touched by the gesture. I laid a hand against his cheek and reached up to kiss the other, whispering, "Be safe," as I did. I know he'd do his best to look after himself, but he's told me the horror stories of some of his past investigations that didn't quite go to plan, and I know I'll be worrying until he's safely back home.

He didn't let me pull away this time, tightening his hold on me and turning his head and suddenly we were kissing. Oh, it was glorious! This man, who captured the hearts of my children and then went on to capture mine, made me feel things I've not felt for a very long time. I can't even adequately express those feelings. He's at once strong and gentle, passionate and soft. I don't think I would have let him stop if it weren't for the want of air, but a gentleman taking his dog out for a late night walk on the other side of the street coughed loudly and grumbled about the 'youth of today', and Bill and I couldn't help but laugh, both rather pleased to be considered 'youths'. He shook his head in amusement as we watched the man disappear round the corner, and then he looked back down at me. "Wait for me, Allie?"

Of course I'll wait for him! I've waited nearly fifteen years for a man to make me feel like this again, so what's a few months more? I told him so. He didn't say anything, just kissed me again, and I was lost in him for a while until the clock tower chimed quarter to eleven in the distance. He really had to go. We finally parted and he got into the car, so I blew him a kiss. He wouldn't leave until he'd watched me walk safely down the alleyway and he was happy I was on the high street, and I kept wanting to turn around. I could feel him watching me, and when I reached the lights of the shopfronts I turned and waved, seeing his car pass the entrance and on down the residential road where he'd meet the main road and carry on towards London.

Louise knew exactly what happened with just one look at my face when I stepped back into the gallery, but said nothing. She was practically vibrating with excitement, and Paul had to say her name three times before she realised he was trying to get her attention. Her enthusiasm was infectious and it made me forget my worries for a little while as we closed the gallery down for the night and all went out for drinks. She was dying to ask me what happened, I could tell, but held her tongue for the rest of the night, and after being treated to a very late bite to eat we all went our separate ways. They'll come and pick me up from the cottage tomorrow morning and we'll spend the day together, so I expect she'll want the details.

For now, I'm sat in bed in a silent house, missing a man who's become such an intrinsic part of my life that there's a void when he's not there.


July 27th, 1947

[Article in The Oakley News]

London Art Scene Comes To Oakley

Last night's opening of the new Oakley Art Galleries was a resounding success. Set up by Alison Mannering of nearby village Foxwood, it contains an eclectic mix of paintings and sculptures from both local artists and well-known figures in the art world - but is so well curated one finds it difficult to distinguish between the two. Mrs. Mannering's discerning eye extends to her own work (a seascape, humbly displayed in a far corner of the gallery, yet somehow a piece that draws the viewer in) and by the end of the evening plenty of the works were sold - including her own. In attendance were visitors from both the surrounding areas as well as many recognisable faces from the London art scene. If Oakley Art Galleries continues in this vein, this critic can see it going from strength to strength. With the recent work on the theatre starting and more interest in local arts organisations, perhaps Oakley will one day become a fashionable destination for art patrons.


July 30th, 1947

[Letter from Alison Mannering to Det. Ch. Insp. Cunningham]

Bill,

I don't expect you to be reading this any time soon as by now you're in a foreign country and out of reach but at least this will be waiting for you when you return. I can't tell you enough what it meant to me that you managed to get away from work to come down and see the gallery opening - especially in light of the fact you were leaving on a long mission early the next day. All the hard work and dedication from everyone that went into getting that gallery up and running has paid off, and the interest in it hasn't yet abated (granted, it's only been a few days!). The local newspaper wrote an article and said such kind things about it; I've included a copy so you can see for yourself. I'm so proud of everyone, and am even allowing myself a moment of pride in something I've done. And don't think I didn't see the sales receipt for my seascape, Detective Chief Inspector Cunningham! I told you I would be happy to give that painting to you, or paint anything of your choice, in thanks for your unfailing support of me and my art. I'll keep hold of it until you return and we can talk about it then.

I suppose the main reason for this letter is to address that evening, and perhaps tell you a few things I would most likely struggle with saying face to face (Louise would tell you I've always been extremely shy around men). The moment I met you, back at Craggy-Tops with the children, I was attracted to you. I thought it would be a passing crush, a moment of indulgence for a widowed woman, but it never went away and the fact that you gradually became a very close friend of the family made it all the more obvious. I've been alone for a long time. I'll be honest; I've been on a few dates, but they were when Philip and Dinah were younger and the men never held any further interest for me. Life was difficult, trying to raise my two and provide for them whilst keeping the household running and that's why I almost worked myself into the ground. The reward for helping you with your investigation couldn't have come at a better time, and the children's subsequent 'adventures' and rewards have only added to our improved situation. Throughout it all, you've been there for us, and especially me. Over the years, we've become closer, and we've both hinted at our feelings in our own ways, but there's always the feeling of insecurity. Am I imagining that my feelings are reciprocated? If I ever had the courage to make the first move, would I be rebuffed?

You making that move to take our relationship one step forward was the most wonderful part of that evening. To finally be in your arms, being kissed by you...I will admit right now that I have dreamt of such things! To go back to an empty house and know that I can't see you now and no one knows how long that will be for...it's hard. I miss you. It's probably harder for you, being somewhere far away in a different culture and surrounded by strangers. At least I can go about my normal routines for distraction.

I feel I've bared my soul in this letter but it seemed the best place for me to tell you how I feel and articulate it in the way I want, and hopefully not forget something. I think I would become flustered and embarrassed telling you in person. I do hope you see this soon, as it means you finished your mission quickly. I have to remind myself not to pick up the 'phone and start dialling your number when I want to tell you something.

You asked me if I would wait for you. I've waited many years to find someone like you, so a few more weeks or months is nothing. But please stay safe, and come back to me soon. Even if the time away has given you a chance to reflect and you find that maybe your feelings have changed, I will still be here as a friend.

Always yours,

Allie


September 30th, 1947

[Personal journal entry - Det. Ch. Insp. Cunningham (in code)]

On complete radio silence. Shouldn't even be writing this in case something happens to me but am writing in code to be translated back home. Two months and counting with no contact with Allie actually hurts. My own company leaves a lot to be desired sometimes, and I've realised she keeps me grounded. When things get serious and I'm dealing with spies and gun-runners and bad guys, her light-hearted stories of the locals and her clients remind me there's a whole world that's just living, unaware of the machinations of a foreign government that could spell disaster for Europe if no one stops them.

She keeps me going too. I won't be doing this forever - won't be able to do this forever - and she gives me hope that I'll actually have a normal life and settle down with someone (her?). I'm missing the kids and their laughter and stories and arguments, and Kiki's express train impression, and Socks' little mews when she wants attention, and being in a crazy household full of noise. And most of all, I'm missing Allie. I finally took the step in our relationship we both wanted but I left it until the night before I came away and I realise that I have to finish this up as soon as I can so I can get home and apologise for leaving her hanging like that.

If I don't...please forgive me, Allie.


October 14th, 1947

[Journal entry - Alison Mannering]

The W.I. were having a coffee morning and fair in the village hall yesterday and although I don't belong (it's run by most of the older ladies and I haven't yet found myself feeling comfortable enough with any of them), apparently news of my baking skills had been spread via Hilda and I was called upon to provide some cakes and biscuits for them. I didn't mind, anything to help the local community, and it gave me a chance to play with some new recipes as I hadn't baked in a while. I spent the day previous getting some of the offerings ready, but there were the last few that I finished off that morning and I was expecting Mrs. Hanson to come and collect them. I was invited to attend but I begged off, claiming I had some work to do. In actual fact I just didn't want to socialise that day; the children hadn't written to me recently and no one had heard from Bill in a few months so all I wanted to do was curl up in my chair and do some sketching.

I had cakes on various surfaces and managed to box up most of them but one was just cooling off and I was lost in the bottom cupboard trying to find a suitable tin to put some biscuits in when I heard the door go. I had my hands full and thankfully I'd not left the chain on, so I called, "The door's open!" as I sorted through. "You're earlier than I expected, I'm just boxing everything up for you and if you don't have any bags I can find some for you if you need..." Someone came into the kitchen and when I finally managed to select the right tin and put the others back in their places, I stood up and turned round. Fully expecting to see Mrs. Hanson stood there, I was so shocked to see Bill that I accidentally dropped the tin.

I don't think either of us noticed because after I exclaimed his name, he swept me up in his arms and kissed me thoroughly. I'd spent long nights replaying our parting over and over in my mind and found myself doubting whether or not it had happened, or whether he meant it, and so I was overjoyed to know that he truly wanted me. Neither of us spoke for a while, and when we did pull slightly apart, he continued to drop light kisses on my nose, my cheeks, my forehead...almost as if he wanted to make sure I was real.

"I missed you," he said, and I just smiled up at him, trying to convince myself that he was real too.

"I missed you too," I told him. He held me for a moment, then took a deep breath and grinned at me.

"Mmmm, smells wonderful. You didn't need to do all this baking to welcome me home," he joked, and I shook my head in amusement. As he's here, I'll keep the jam tarts back; I know his weakness when it comes to baked goods.

"They're for the W.I. morning. I was expecting Mrs. Hanson to collect them and take them to the village hall. But I may be able to lose a couple of things..." His eyes lit up when he saw the tarts, then he looked back at me, his expression softening.

"Oh, Allie, I'm sorry for being away for so long. And then when I got back and saw your letter..."

I think I blushed a deep red then, because he laughed a little and kissed my forehead. "You read it?"

"Of course I did. That's why I rushed down to see you without calling. I wish I'd been able to do the same for you, to reassure you...I just couldn't risk it. It would have been too dangerous, if it had fallen into the wrong hands..."

I touched his cheek. He looked tired and there appeared to be some fading bruises to his neck, disappearing into his collar, but other than that he seemed well. "You kept yourself safe."

"As well as I could." He let me touch the bruising just to point out I'd noticed, but I didn't ask and he didn't tell. Maybe one day he will; he's told me about some of his other missions and maybe he just has to wait until the confidentiality is lifted (if at all). "I'm getting too old for all of this," he said lightly, but I think he was half serious. He's certainly not old, just barely the other side of forty and extremely fit and strong - enough to give men half his age a run for their money (and according to Joe and Sam he frequently does when he's training the new recruits) - but when he's been in that line of work for so long I can imagine it starts to become a strain. I told him off for claiming he was too old and he laughed and then kissed me again, so we spent another pleasant interlude until we were interrupted by a loud knock at the door. I must have looked a little flustered as he chuckled at me and I know that I could feel my cheeks burning when I opened the door to Mrs. Hanson and her niece, Sarah.

I ushered them through to the kitchen where Bill had picked up the tin I'd dropped earlier and was putting away the items I'd not managed to box up before he surprised me. The jam tarts were nowhere to be found and he winked at me when I caught his eye.

Mrs. Hanson and Sarah weren't usually particularly chatty people, and for a moment they seemed downright speechless to find a man in my kitchen but he introduced himself and did his best to charm them. Sarah was giggling and fluttering her eyelashes at him but Mrs. Hanson was harder to crack and she cast a disapproving glance at me when I handed her the bags they'd brought with everything ready inside.

"I'm sorry you don't feel up to gracing us with your presence," she commented, referring to earlier when I'd begged off actually going, and I felt Bill stiffen beside me even though he remained silent. "Will you be collecting your tins later or will you require someone to drop them off for you?"

I'd expected some judgement (especially since Hilda had warned me the entire W.I. was on board asking me to donate except for Mrs. Hanson) but the open animosity surprised me. What I did behind closed doors was my business. "Hilda will be collecting them for me, so there's no need to worry about cleaning or storing them. I do hope you raise lots of funds today, Mrs. Hanson."

"I'm sure we will," she sniffed, "with or without your aid."

I seemed to be quite attuned to Bill as I could almost feel the silent affront radiating from him. His earlier charming demeanour was gone and he offered to see them out in a tone that brooked little argument. After quick farewells they were gone and I went back into the kitchen to see them walking back up the garden path, talking rapidly and glancing back every so often.

"Oh no..." I murmured, and Bill paused as he came in behind me, about to say something.

"What's wrong?"

"I've just realised that they were able to see us all the way down the path before they knocked on the door...I'll be the talk of the town soon." Bill glanced at the window and understood what I meant immediately, but surprised me by moving closer and pulling me into him.

"Well let's give them something more to talk about," he said, and kissed me again. I honestly don't know how long they were there for; whether they continued straight out of the gate and onto the road or whether they paused to watch the widow behaving scandalously in her kitchen in full view of them, but I also didn't really care. Bill was back, and that's all that mattered to me. He did ask me later if the idea they talked about me behind my back bothered me and I admitted that sometimes it does but I have some lovely friends in the village who rarely let a bad word about me go unquestioned. Mrs. Hanson is quite old-fashioned and perhaps my lifestyle is a little too 'modern' for her.

Thankfully there were no more disturbances for the rest of the day, which was a blessing when Bill and I found we couldn't keep our hands off each other. Of course, one thing led to another. I'm not even going to go into further detail in here; those memories are for me and me alone. I wrote before when Bill kissed me before he left that he was at once strong and gentle, passionate and soft, and today just proved those words right even more. I never felt this way with John. Our love was different; more warmth and contentment. There's something exciting and dangerous (and of course passionate) about Bill, and I get butterflies whenever I think of him, even if he's beside me.

I'm writing this as we lay in bed, considering whether or not to get up and have something to eat as we've let the day disappear and it's rather late. Bill's looking over my shoulder, which is rather distracting. He's promised that as he's read one of my personal journal entries (of a rather significant step forward in our relationship) he'll return the favour and let me read one of his. I didn't even know he kept a journal. It must be far more fascinating than mine.


November 4th, 1947

[Letter from Polly Sullivan to Alison Mannering]

Dear Alison,

I know that I haven't heard from you regarding my last letter because you do not agree with what I have to say. As your older - and only - sibling, it is my duty to watch out for you. If I feel that you are too close to a situation I'll advise you and provide another point of view to help you make an informed decision as to whether it is best for you to continue. I am concerned that the Detective Inspector brings far too much danger into your lives, which far outweighs any positives that he may bring. I can't tell you how to live your life, but I can certainly tell you any concerns which you may not be able to see.

However, I am actually writing to you to let you know that Jocelyn has been ill for a while now. I believe it may be down to the energy he has expended trying to get this book published, and all the demands the historical society has placed upon him for papers and talks. We have decided to take time over the winter and rent some rooms in a hotel in Jordan. We have made arrangements to rent out the cottage and will be flying next week. Jocelyn has been taking an interest in some ancient history and we are close to many excavation sites so there will be something for us to do. Please find the address below for any contact you may need to make.

Your sister,

Polly


November 23rd, 1947

[Personal journal entry - Det. Ch. Insp. Cunningham]

Have been in and out of the field recently and attending too many briefings to count, but managed to see Allie for a weekend. She seemed troubled and confided that Polly apparently didn't approve of me. Can understand from Polly's point of view; I came into their lives during a fairly dangerous case and since then there seems to have been no end of adventures, danger and violence. But Allie is a grown woman who is extremely able to make her own decisions and if she is fine for our relationship to continue then Polly will just have to accept it. Think Allie likes to pretend that Polly's views don't affect her and she doesn't need her approval, but I could see the letter had an effect on her.

Not sure I can get Christmas off this year (again) as we're short staffed - some of the guys are out of the country and rightly so those with families get priority for time off - and my promise to Allie I would take her away for a week or so to my house on the coast doesn't look like it's going to be fulfilled this year, so that's my New Year resolution.

Did however get an invite from Louise and Temple to attend a New Year dinner party and it looks like we may be able to swing it. Allie was worried about the kids but it soon came to light that the Temples' flat is a little too small and some mutual friends had offered the use of their country mansion, so there would be plenty of room to stay and there would be other children of a similar age there for the kids to mingle with. She hasn't told them yet but is going to spring it on them when she collects them after term finishes and is going to take them shopping for formal-ish wear.

Don't know about anyone else, but I'm just looking forward to seeing Allie in an evening dress again.


December 27th, 1947

[Journal entry - Alison Mannering]

This year seems to have flown by, and I'm taking some time to sit and reflect on the changes that have come about in our lives. The biggest change is obviously the step Bill and I have taken forward in our relationship, but also I'm grateful for the chance to realise my dream of opening a gallery (which is still seeing excellent sales despite the time of year!), and I feel that I've watched the children take leaps and bounds in confidence. Their school reports are actually very good, despite the boys in particular dismissing their lessons as mostly time-wasting, and they're taking much more interest in the extra-curricular activities that their schools offer. Dinah and Lucy-Ann are excelling in their lacrosse, and because they did so well in their county competition there is talk of them joining the school team for the national competition. Lucy-Ann has taken on other sports including hockey and netball, whereas Dinah has channelled her creativity into writing and has been corresponding with Louise and Paul.

The boys are doing well on their cricket team but they don't enter into the county competitions, preferring to spend their time on other pursuits. Jack is set to take over the camera club and nature society with the help of the current prefects, and Philip has been considering joining the cadets. He's not entirely sure which branch yet, as he doesn't want to pursue a career in the military but I think there is a little more than just hero-worship when it comes to Bill and he really wants something that will give him good standing to join the police when he's old enough. He's only just started talking seriously about it, so I think Bill will sit down with him and talk through options.

Their adventures terrify me and it's something I would be extremely happy to miss out on next year (or ever again!) but there are positives that come out of them and I'm proud to watch these four grow in confidence, character, strength, level-headedness and kindness.

Bill and I haven't yet told the children about us. Although I'm not hiding it from them, this relationship feels so new and I want to enjoy something that's just mine. Bill understands that, as I didn't want him to think I was ashamed of it at all!

He's currently in London in the office but has been ringing every day (which the children love) and they're counting down until New Year's Eve. Louise and Paul wanted to throw a dinner party but found that their flat was a little small for the people they wanted to invite (and wanted to include the children, for which I was extremely grateful). Louise was talking to one of her London friends and she offered the use of her country mansion. She's spoken of Phyllis Drummond before but I haven't yet met her. Apparently Sir Graham went to school with her father who's a scientist and has done some work for the government, and when one of his experiments came under the scrutiny of a group selling secrets to foreign governments, she met her husband, Captain Hugh Drummond. They know a lot of the Metropolitan lot that Paul associates with, so she didn't feel as if she were inviting a group of strangers into her home and said to Louise that she'd help with the planning. It's turned into something a little larger than Louise was intending but she's looking forward to it. The children are all invited as a few other guests have children of similar ages, and there's plenty of rooms to stay in so we don't have to leave early. It's not actually too far from here, and a fairly direct route from London.

I wanted to help as much as I could but I can't go up much earlier as I have the children and wouldn't want them loose in the house - goodness knows what they'd get up to! We were going to meet Bill there but he's coming to collect us the morning of New Year's Eve and take us up, then bring us back New Year's Day and hopefully stay for a few days before the children go back to school, which they're ridiculously excited about. We haven't yet exchanged presents which is another thing for them to look forward to. None of them can wait to show off their new outfits which are a combination of purchases from when I took them shopping as soon as term ended, and in Lucy-Ann's case, a dress pattern that she chose and we made over the last week. I may have treated myself to an evening gown as well! The most 'formal' dresses I have are still a little casual, and are fine for a gallery opening or dinner with Louise and Paul but certainly don't come close to anything suitable for black tie, which is what the invitation specifies. I have to admit, the thought of Bill in a suit and tie is extremely enticing, and I've indulged myself in a little feminine 'preening' recently, as I want to make him proud to have me on his arm. Occasions like these aren't regular in our calendars, so allow me the opportunity to go all out!