Reassured, though not for the reasons that they probably thought, I clambered somewhat inelegantly into the back of the large black car, and DCI Foyle joined me. Samantha – who I was already thinking of as 'Sam' – took hold of my suitcase again, carried it around to put it in the boot, then strode confidently back to her seat behind the wheel.
I took a moment to adjust my smart skirt to fix two things; firstly, the backs of my legs were cold on the leather, and secondly, I could already feel my fragile stockings snagging on the small imperfections of that same leather seat. This skirt malarkey was a lot more fraught with danger than I had realised, having spent the last ten years in trousers or shin length skirts and/or dresses. But, to my surprise, I also realised that I felt much more feminine in the knee length skirt and high heels (well, high for me anyway). My feelings were quite mixed when I noticed the involuntary – and appreciative - glance that my companion in the back gave my legs. I had to remind myself that he was my great-times-eight-grandfather, and the young woman now driving us down to Hastings was his future wife and mother of his children.
So any funny frisson of forbidden attraction I may have been experiencing had to remain deeply buried. I didn't matter that we didn't share a fraction of the genetic material that cousins who can legally marry would share. It was just not on.
Perhaps it was genetic recognition. Subconsciously, my body recognised him as 'familiar', so I felt the connection too. I'd had a few relationships in the past (okay, the future) that had not amounted to anything much. Fizzled out after a shortish time, no upset on either side. The nearest thing I had to any kind of romance in my life at all was Mike at work, but I'd never let him get close enough to figure out if we could connect, mainly because I worked with him. Which was stupid really, he might be quite fun. But I liked Mike and didn't want to lose him as a friend if I cocked up the relationship. Which I would; I always did.
C'mon, distract yourself. Think about the work.
I wondered when Sam started dating Andrew Foyle. Without any prompting on my part, the answer popped into my head.
My mind seemed quite certain of the fact, so I assumed that it was information from my brain dump. Where did Zak get his information from?
Samantha Foyle's diaries.
This was distinctly creepy but also quite fascinating. I didn't know that Sam kept a diary.
When did they break up?
Andrew dumped Sam by letter, dated April 8th 1942, sent from Debden.
Sooo, the cad didn't even have the guts to break it off face to face. Fearless Spitfire Ace, chicken poo boyfriend.
Sam and Andrew date for about fourteen months, but that doesn't even start until Feb '41. I've heard of long courtships, but this takes the corned beef.
Sighing, I looked at Foyle senior and found I was being regarded with mild humour. I had the impression that he could read my mind and it was very disconcerting. He must be a very effective detective. I wanted to tell him everything and he wasn't even trying.
I belatedly remembered my manners (sorry, Mum).
"I'm Lily Davis, by the way. From Reading."
I correctly pronounced it 'Red-ing' not 'Read-ing'. I also automatically held out my hand to shake his. It might be deemed a little forward for a well brought up young 'gel' of this era, but there was a war on and people – women – adapted.
Foyle was far too polite to leave me hanging there.
His hand closed on mine; dry, warm, two shakes, quite firm. Textbook perfect, my Mum would have loved him for that alone.
I was wondering, ludicrously, how much longer I could legitimately hang onto his hand when I spotted Sam's quick look at me in the rear view mirror. Ooopsy.
"Are you staying locally or just visiting friends?"
Foyle's hand withdrew from mine and I felt its loss.
"It's not clear at the moment how long I'll be in Hastings, but I'm a volunteer worker. The curse of a private education; I have a variety of skills, some not as useful as others."
I'm not sure what prompted my comment, as I already had plans to work at the hospital, but I had no guidance for this mission and my gut instinct wondered if I might engineer work a little closer to home.
"What sort of skills?"
Sam's question garnered a raised eyebrow from her boss and she hurriedly tagged on "If you don't mind me asking."
It wasn't so much what skills I had, as much as figuring out which would be pertinent here.
"I can type, file, take dictation, fulfil most of the duties of a librarian, and teach history. I have rudimentary medical knowledge, sufficient for First Aid work; I know my way around a wine cellar, can plan meals for dinner parties and lay out the table so that no-one is socially offended. Oh, and I can dance."
I didn't think it prudent to mention the hand-to-hand combat or the Law thing; people, even exceptional relatives, get a bit funny about that.
Foyle's lips twitched in definite humour this time.
"Anything you can't do?"
"I never got around to learning to fly, and I'm a lousy cook."
They both smiled as I had hoped they would.
"Do you have somewhere to stay?"
I met Sam's eyes in the rear view mirror.
"I'm afraid not. In a town like Hastings I confess I assumed that there would be lots of accommodation available.
"You would think."
Sam's comment was quite glum.
Foyle was looking at me again. It was difficult to figure out what he was thinking, but I had no doubt that he was. I suspect that he was often underestimated, but was shrewd enough to let that work for him.
"We are short of secretarial staff."
I looked at him. He had made a statement; he didn't ask me a question.
I didn't take the bait. If I was a spy, I'd probably leap at the chance to work at the police station, wouldn't I?
"Yes, I imagine you are. It's difficult to keep female workers when they can earn so much more at the munitions factories."
I leaned forward slightly, so that Sam would hear me.
"If you would direct me to the Town Hall, I'll enquire about accommodation there and see what they can do."
Sam nodded and glanced over her shoulder.
I leaned back into my seat and looked at the palms of my hands. They were stinging like mad now, and my knees hadn't escaped completely either. What I wouldn't give for some sterile wipes and a bottle of Sprayskin. Thank goodness I'd remembered to have my boosters just before I came here.
Before I could open my bag and get a handkerchief out, a pristine white folded square of cotton was passed to me. I looked at Foyle.
"I couldn't, really. My hands will make it dirty."
He gave a small smile; a subtle twist of his lips. I would love to see him laugh.
"It will wash."
I took it and pressed it to one palm, then the other. The cotton was still warm from his body and smelled of him.
One of us was in trouble; I'm fairly certain that it was me.
A short while later Sam dropped Foyle off at the police station in order for him to get to a meeting.
He turned to Sam as he exited the car.
"Sam, please drop Miss Davis at the Town Hall so she can get her accommodation sorted."
"Yes Sir. Shall I then come back here?"
Foyle paused. Looked at his watch.
"Erm, no, not straightaway. Have some lunch, and then come back afterwards. I won't be out of the meeting until three-ish."
He looked back at me, still seated in the back. He nodded once before replacing his hat.
"Miss Davis. A pleasure."
I couldn't help smiling.
"Thank you for the rescue, and the handkerchief."
"Think nothing of it."
Foyle turned and entered the building behind him, leaving me and Sam alone. Half to myself, I muttered under my breath.
"Couldn't if I tried."
Man crumpet. Thinking women's totty. God, he must have women falling all over him.
"Huh? Oh, gosh, I'm so sorry."
Gosh? Where did that come from? I don't use 'gosh'!
"I was thinking aloud, terrible habit, please ignore me. So, tell me, what sort of digs can I expect? Crummy, nice, good, better than good?"
Sam seemed to find me amusing, thank goodness.
"As a matter of fact, I've been trying to do the same thing myself. I was just bombed out of my last place and it's been rather difficult finding somewhere new."
It crossed my mind that if it was as simple as keeping Sam out of the last spare lodging, and ergo, in Foyle's spare room, then my task here would be completed today, so when did I write that letter? What had the two Chrisses' done to alter things?
I'd been so busy pondering that I hadn't noticed that we had pulled up in front of the Town Hall.
"Please call me Lily."
"Lily it is. Here we are, Hastings Town Hall. Would you like me to park and come in with you?"
"If you hadn't met up with me, what would you be doing by now?"
Her answer was very quick and amused.
"Having a spot of lunch. I was going to tackle the digs debacle later."
"Well, you go on with that; this could take ages and I don't want to hold you up. I'm sure you're probably starving."
"More or less all the time. Are you sure you don't mind? Will you be all right?"
Sam's smile turned sheepish. I liked her a lot already. As I climbed out of the car she hopped around the back and brought out my case.
"I'm sure I'll be fine, thanks. Good luck with everything."
"Best of luck to you, too."
With a pleasant nod, Sam drove away.
An hour later I left the Town Hall, having secured the last available letting, and Sam was officially homeless. All I had to do now was stay out of everyone's way and try not to have any impact on the timeline.
For the want of anything else to do, I walked to my new home; at least temporarily, I hoped. It was a quaint terraced house with flint exterior walls, and a green painted door. It was odd to see such an old house looking relatively new.
The front door opened onto a smallish room. A staircase on the left led up to two bedrooms, one front, one back, but only the front one had a bed. The back room was full of packed boxes.
Back downstairs a door led through to the kitchen and another door at the back went through to a small scullery, and finally I found the bathroom and toilet. Thank goodness for that – I had for a ghastly moment thought that the loo might have been at the bottom of the garden. All mod cons here then.
There was a door from the scullery to the garden, I assume, as I didn't check it.
Back in the kitchen a small table with three chairs was up against one wall. A large stove had been place in the chimney alcove. A deep butler sink and wooden drainer were under the window; whoever washed the dishes would be able to look up the garden.
The whole place was terribly sweet, but I missed my large and cluttered flat, my books and ready meals. I was suddenly ravenous.
With no food.
Well, I have plenty of money, I'll eat out. I left my case in the bedroom, bathed my hands and knees, and then went back upstairs.
I swear I only sat down for a moment to see if the bed was comfortable, but when I woke up, three hours had passed. I was even hungrier now.
I tidied myself up, and went out to look for a restaurant. I fancied Italian, but I doubted I'd find one in Hastings.
Contrary to my expectations, I found a small restaurante, tucked away in a little back street. It was busy, but I managed to get a table by the window.
The proprietor, Carlo, obviously genuinely Italian, appeared to run the place with his son, Tony. The son tried a bit of patter with a young woman on the next table, but he didn't try it with me. Too long in the tooth at '35'. Far too old in reality. I hid another grin.
In the few minutes I waited for Carlo or his son to come to my table, I thought about DCI Christopher Foyle. I felt very confused by my feelings for him. Actually, I felt confused about any feelings at all. My heart had been in a state of deep freeze for some time; I just didn't want to know after my last disaster. But now, now I could easily imagine making love to him; making love, not just having sex. It was too ridiculous, I barely knew the man.
But, there was all that tingledge when we touched. True, we were related, but only very distantly. Not in a brother-pervy sort of way.
In an entirely hypothetical exercise, I worked out how to go about getting my man.
Hmm. That was a little worrying.
Okay. Practicalities. He was free until 1946, although his heart was probably engaged earlier. More accessed diary memories told me that something kick-started the romance between Sam and Foyle way before they got together, but frustratingly, they did not mention what.
By all accounts, including Sam's, Foyle was emotionally quite distant, quietly keeping people at arms length. Perhaps it was the fact that he lost his wife; too young, too early. It would make anyone wary of another emotional entanglement, another potential loss.
What I needed was some sort of sign.
A ruddy great big one that says 'hands off Foyle, he's mine, signed, Sam Stewart'.
This was just a paper exercise; the lovely DCI Foyle was to remain unmolested.
I decided that I was desperate enough to have a glass of wine while I waited. I looked around for Carlo, but couldn't see him.
Less than a minute later Foyle walked into the restaurant. I couldn't believe my eyes.
Was this my sign? Or just another unbelievable coincidence?
He didn't see me at first, so I watched Carlo greet him as an old and dear friend. I wondered how they knew each other.
Judging from what I could see, Carlo was explaining that he was very nearly full; probably asking his friend if he would mind waiting a few minutes for a table. Foyle turned to survey the room and our eyes met.
Carlo came over; Foyle waited.
"I understand that you know my friend? Mr Foyle?"
"Yes, I do. Please ask him if he would like to join me. I can see that you are busy."
"Bella! Is good that he does not dine alone, yes?"
I followed the frangled English and nodded.
When Foyle came over at Carlo's behest a few moments later, he had left his hat and coat on a peg beside the entrance. He, Foyle, looked smart but more approachable in a nice suit.
He waited politely, his hand on the back of the other chair.
"Mr Foyle. Good to see you again. Please, have a seat."
He pulled the chair out and sat down.
"Thank you. Did you…um…manage to sort out your accommodation?"
"Yes, I did, thank you, and please call me Lily. 'Miss Davis' sounds like my piano teacher."
"So you play the piano, as well as your other accomplishments?"
"No, sadly, not a note, Mr Foyle. Far too many keys. Got horribly confused."
His smile became a grin. I definitely wanted to see him laugh.
"Please, call me Christopher. 'Mr Foyle' sounds like my violin teacher."
Inside, I found that I was thawing; possibly even smiling a little. It's been years since I had an honest to goodness flirt.
"So, you can play the violin, as well as all your other accomplishments?"
His face was completely straight when he answered.
"Sadly, not a note. Not enough keys; got horribly confused."
I chuckled quietly, though I wanted to laugh out loud.
Carlo came over with two glasses and a bottle of Chianti. After he poured us a glass each and had gone away again, we both took a sip of the wine.
"So, Christopher, do you ever get called 'Chris'?"
He looked surprised.
"Erm, no. No, not as a rule."
I smile again; I seemed to be doing a lot of it lately. I leaned forward and lowered my voice.
"Then I shall call you Chris, if you don't mind?"
He looked at me for a long moment, and then seemed to come to some sort of internal decision.
"No, I don't mind."
He picked up the menu, but there wasn't much on it.
Carlo came back and asked us if we were ready to order. Chris looked at me, eyebrows raised.
"I'll have the vegetarian pasta, please."
Both men looked at me very oddly. For a long moment, I didn't get it.
Another oops. Vegetarians were still thin on the ground socially in 1940.
"Sorry; the pasta with vegetables in the white wine sauce."
Carlo nodded, but Chris gave me a thoughtful look before he made his choice.
"I'll have the spaghetti bolognaise, please, Carlo."
The restaurant owner gave a minute shake of the head, which I didn't understand. Without missing a beat, Chris continued.
"Actually, no, I think I'll have the pasta, too."
Carlo beamed his approval and whisked himself away.
"What was that all about?"
"The pasta? Carlo usually tips me the wink if anything is not quite as good as it should be. The meat is sometimes not of the best quality."
"Ah, I see."
We chatted on while we waited for the food to be prepared. The Chianti flowed, the atmosphere seemed to me to turn mellow, and I was vaguely aware that my alcohol tolerance was not as good as I remembered it. Thankfully, the food arrived quite quickly and I could start mopping up the alcohol. We ate, and occasionally talked.
In a sudden moment of lucidity, I also remembered that there were questions that a woman should ask of a man she is interested in; especially when she is not supposed to know the answers already.
"May I ask you a personal question?"
Chris seemed a little wary.
"That would depend on the question."
"Oh, my motives are strictly dishonourable."
Chris raised an eyebrow, but curiosity obviously got the better of him.
"I'm sure there are delicate and subtle ways to ask this, but I haven't the wit or sobriety to figure them out. Before we go any further – and I confess, I would like to go further – I need to ask if you are married. I'm sure I must seem very forward to you, but I don't fool around."
I'd obviously shocked him into silence. He looked at the tablecloth for so long that I though he wasn't going to answer.
"I was. She…died."
"I'm so sorry."
Chris looked up briefly.
"Well, it wasn't your fault."
"Yes, I know. That was sympathy, not apology."
Cripes! I really have had too much Chianti on an empty stomach.
Chris looked at me, his head slightly tilted, as if I was a difficult puzzle to solve.
"You are very…"
"Tactless? Blunt? Go on, you can tell me."
He smiled without rancour.
"I was going to say 'unusual'. Oddly refreshing. Different."
"Oh dear. Not good. I'm supposed to blend."
"Blend? Why? Who says?"
I was suddenly in deep water. Note to self; no more drinking until the Foyle/Stewart alliance was formerly ratified.
"Oh, no-one, really, just…you know. Time of war, shouldn't stand out. I'm always putting my foot in it. An ex of mine was of the opinion that I thought 'tact' meant nailed down. Sadly for that relationship, I took it as a compliment."
I looked at Chris, really looked into those so blue and so familiar eyes.
"Either way, I was out of line. Blame the wine, and I won't have any more. Was it long ago?"
The sudden switch made him blink.
"Not that long ago in the big scheme of things."
Chris looked surprised. He leaned back in his chair.
"You are the first person that hasn't told me that it was a long time ago and I should be moving on."
I had lost interest in the meagre remains of my meal and placed the knife and fork tidily.
"No-one's business but yours. If and when you're ready, or you meet the right woman. Or look at one you already know with new eyes."
Gawd, but I'd strayed right out into the deep. I'd better shut up now. Or go. Or both.
Instead, he surprised me.
"Have you got your post sorted out at the hospital yet?"
The complete change of topic was unexpected.
"The voluntary position? No, not yet, why?"
"Come and work at the station. Your secretarial skills will be of far more use to me than the hospital, which, incidentally, already has more volunteers than they can reasonably handle."
I'm sure I must have looked like a winded goldfish for several seconds.
Did he want me there for the reason he had just given? Or did he want me there because I didn't blend in as I should and he could keep an eye on me? Or because he, too, was interested?
Or – and this was a big or – was this what was meant to happen to straighten out the timeline?
Chris was still waiting patiently.
I went with my guts.
"Yes. All right, I'll work at the station. If there is useful work I can do."
He smiled and gave a small nod. I got the impression that he was pleased.
"I'm sure you'll be a great help."
I was going to ask him how long a background check on me would take before I could start working for him when I realised that I was too far back in the past for that. They could do some rudimentary checks, but my background would be suitably organised already, or all of my records would have been conveniently destroyed in a bombing.
"When do I start?"
"Eight o'clock sharp tomorrow morning. If I don't need Sam first thing, I'll get her to show you the ropes. Given the average typing speed of our local constabulary, you may be very busy."
"Sounds like fun. I'll look forward to it."
That seemed to close the matter and our conversation moved on until we realised that we were holding up the table for other patrons. We left the table and went to the front desk to pay for the meal. I looked in my unfamiliar bag for my purse. Before I could get it out, Chris gave me another odd look before asking Carlo for the bill. He looked at me while we waited.
"Please allow me. I imposed on your hospitality; call me old fashioned, but I expect to pay for the meal when I dine with a lady."
Several responses popped into my head, some pithy, some cheeky, and at least one rude, but instead I stopped looking for my purse and managed to say 'thank-you'.
He really sounded to me like he meant it. But then I wanted him to mean it.
When we left the restaurant I stood, a little awkwardly I thought, not knowing what to do next. I looked at the memorial to the Fallen of the Great War while I dithered.
"Do you have far to go?"
"No, not really, just off Queen's Road. Hardly a fair stretch of the legs, as my old nanna used to say."
Chris placed his hat on his head and turned towards his right, to go down the road.
"May I walk you home? You aren't familiar with Hastings, and most of the signs have been removed."
I'm afraid that I probably didn't hide as much of my pleasure as I ought to have done.
"Yes, that would be…lovely. Thank you."
So we walked and talked, and I got out of breath, not being anywhere near as fit as I should have been. All too quickly we reached my lodgings.
"Well, here we are; this is me. Thank you for the escort and the company. I'd invite you in for coffee, but I haven't bought anything yet, so I'm fairly certain I don't have any."
"Quite all right, not to worry."
I didn't want him to think I didn't want to invite him in.
"Another time, perhaps?"
Chris smiled gently and I felt young, guilty and transparent. And excited.
"See you tomorrow, eight am.?"
Chris waited until I was inside the house before he left. What a sweet man.
As I shut the door behind me, and leaned on it, I wondered what tomorrow would bring. I suddenly realised that it was the first time in a long time that I was actually interested in finding out.
I was tired, desperate for a cup of tea, a hot shower and a warm bed.
But I hadn't felt this alive in a long time.
Then my heart sank.
As Chris had been out with me, he hadn't been at home with Sam.
Had I messed things up even more?