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by Fergus O'Connell


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Autumn, 1914. Clara, a passionate young London wife and the mother of two small girls, has seen both her husband and the man she loves go off to fight on the front. The inept generals take over from the inept politicians, and so the war drags on, while Clara waits fearfully to see which, if either of her men, will return. It looks as though Clara has lost her chance for happiness. Can she find the courage for one last desperate attempt to make her dreams come true?  

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781783082018
Publisher: Union Bridge Books
Publication date: 06/16/2014
Series: Four Lights Quartet Series , #4
Pages: 220
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Fergus O’Connell is the award-nominated author of ‘Call the Swallow’, and has written over seventeen novels, books for children and business books. His work has been translated into over twenty languages.

Read an Excerpt


Wednesday 23 December 1914

It has been a hundred and seventy three days since Clara Kenton, née Jordan, last had sex. That's if you mean sex with somebody other than herself — which is what she means.

She hurries through a dark, smoky, bitingly cold, November evening to her assignation. The bitter and acrid London air makes her eyes water. And that is not the only part of her that is wet. Clara is damp with excitement. She wears her heavy winter coat, a thick scarf, gloves and boots and these are just about enough to keep out the cold. She carries an overnight bag because she is going to stay at a hotel. She hasn't stayed at a hotel since her honeymoon.

It has all been arranged very hurriedly. And messily. Not the way Clara likes her life to be, at all. She hopes it won't come back to haunt her. James' telegram arrived yesterday evening just after Mrs Parsons, the housekeeper, had left. It said that James would have a twenty four hour pass and asked if she could meet him. He could be in London by late afternoon.

Clara didn't hesitate. She bundled up the girls in their coats and went round to Mrs Parsons. An old friend from Clara's schooldays was going to be in London for just one night and Clara wanted to meet up with her, staying overnight in London. Could Mrs Parsons stay with the girls?

It was such a thin story. But mainly it was so out of character for Clara. She could see that Mrs Parsons didn't believe her. But the older woman was happy to oblige nonetheless. Mrs Parsons loved the girls and took any opportunity to be with them.

A combination of guilt and trying to demonstrate that the story was true had kept Clara at home until the first smell of dusk was in the air but then she couldn't restrain herself any longer. Kissing and hugging each of the girls and with a 'see you in the morning' to Mrs Parsons, Clara took her overnight bag and was soon walking down Horn Lane in the gathering gloom.

She feels a bit like a prostitute. There is something of a Jack the Ripperish air about what she is doing and this causes her to shiver and feel excited at the same time. She doesn't know, but she imagines there must be prostitutes who do as she is doing right now. Of course she knows about the thousands of women who ply their trade on the streets but it has to be true, she reasons, that there is another class of woman. A sort-of upper class. These are women — she imagines — who charge an awful lot of money for their services and who are incredibly confident about what they do.

Clara reckons that she is incredibly competent at sex. Even though it has been such a long time and even though sex with her husband has been anything but extraordinary, Clara remembers how self-confident she was on her wedding night. It was as though all her assurance, her self-esteem, her view of herself got channelled down to that one act. To her surprise, rather than thrilling her new husband Henry, it unmanned him so much that it took him several months before he was able to achieve an erection.

She feels that same self-assurance now, and she has no fears about the effect it will have this time. She is confident about her lover, James. She has seen how joining the Army has brought that quiet self-confidence he always possessed out into the open. How she wishes with all her heart that there was no war and that he didn't have to go. But she can't help thinking how there seem to be very few things in life that are all bad — that don't bring with them some element of good. Of course, Clara knows that it is because she is so happy that she would think this.

Clara has long loved the paintings of Atkinson Grimshaw and tonight, not for the first time, she feels she is the woman in such a painting. The dark cold air that she moves through feels almost liquid rather than gaseous. It is tobacco-coloured, so that the points or slabs of golden lamplight look warm and inviting. But nowhere near as inviting as what she pictures is waiting for her when she gets to Claridge's.

James is in the lobby, eyes fixed on the front door and his face breaks into a smile when he sees her. He stubs out his cigarette in the nearest ashtray and hurries to her as she comes towards him. He had offered to meet her at the Bond Street Tube station but she hadn't been sure what time she would get away and she didn't want to miss him in the evening crowds. This had seemed like a more sensible choice.

James is about five foot ten with brown hair and green eyes. She thinks he looks terribly handsome in uniform.

'Have you eaten?' he asks.

She shakes her head. Her face and eyes are tingling from the cold.

'I'm not that hungry,' she replies. 'Maybe later.'

Clara is hungry. But not for food.

She is quite overwhelmed by the sumptuous interior of the hotel, but doesn't say anything, trying to give the impression that she is quite used to this kind of thing.

'So let's go upstairs and you can unpack,' says James, catching her eye and smiling.

'Unpack this?' she laughs, holding up the tiny weekend case that was part of a set her father gave her when she got married. Clara sometimes thinks ruefully about that present. He must have thought she'd travel the world.

Their room has a vast bed, a wardrobe and a dressing table. The gas lamps are turned low so that the room has a honey tinge. The yellow and coral of a fire burns brightly in the grate. All the fittings and furnishings look far more expensive than anything Clara has ever seen before. She had wondered what would happen once they got to the room and I too, have been wondering, dear reader — because it is my intention that this book begin — just as did its predecessor — with a sex scene.

There are a number of problems with this. The most obvious one is the number of bad sex scenes that get written. But there are other problems. A fairly standard approach is that the scene begins with the participants undressing each other. If the writer is a man — as in this case — the focus is generally on how the woman undresses or is undressed. And with a book set in modern times then, there is no great problem. To put it simply — everybody knows what lies beneath.

So — the outer clothing is generally dispensed with fairly quickly. It's cursory — or is that perfunctory, as Clara wondered (and never successfully resolved) on the night of 27 June 1914? After that, the next decision to be made is probably whether there are stockings or no stockings. If it's stockings, then they can stay on or come off à la Anne Bancroft in The Graduate. And then it's a pretty straightforward bra first and then panties or (the slightly kinkier) leave the bra on and take the panties off.

With a story set in 1914, things are far less clear. Bras have only just been invented. That piece of brilliance is generally credited to Sigmund Lindauer, a German, who developed a bra for mass production in 1912 and patented it in 1913. Corsets had been the thing up until then but as soon as the First World War began, metal was needed for munitions and weapons and so Herr Lindauer was one of those lucky entrepreneurs who 'caught the wave'. (And proving once again Clara's theory: nothing is totally bad, not even World War One.)

Sorry — I digress. My digression could have been worse though. I could have also spoken about the myth that it was a man called Otto Titzling ('tit sling' — gettit?) who developed the bra and who is commemorated in that great Bette Midler song in the movie, Beaches. However, I'm not going to do that because I really need to get back to the issues confronting both myself and Clara as she finds herself in the room that James has booked for their night together. (I would also hope that my wanderings may have heightened the sense of anticipation we are all hopefully feeling — James, Clara, you, dear reader, and myself, who is trying to work out what is going to happen next.)

Essentially, what is going to happen next boils down to what lies beneath and how shall these items be removed.

As it turns out, Clara is a thoroughly modern woman and has begun to experiment with bras. To be more specific, she is the owner of one. Up until then, she wore bodices, and mainly still does. But tonight she is wearing brand new knickers that come down to her knees, a bra and stockings. Clara has also brought with her the nightdress she changed into after sex with Henry on the night of 27 June 1914.

So now the big question. What are our lovers to do? In a modern setting, as we have said, it would be pretty straightforward — Clara would either do a striptease or James would do the undressing. But in 1914, the conventions (for the novelist and the participants) are not so clear. So Clara makes the decision.

James has helped her off with her coat so now she excuses herself with a smile that she intends to be coy — and which seems to have the desired effect — and goes into the bathroom. There she strips naked, goes to the toilet and washes herself — even though she did so just before she left home. Then she changes into the nightdress. She brushes her hair and applies fresh lipstick and a dash of perfume.

What kind of perfume is it? Well, since you asked, dear reader, it's Shem-el-Nessim by Grossmith — 'The Scent of Araby' as it says on the bottle.

Finally after carefully folding her clothes and putting her underwear into the overnight bag, she emerges. Two glasses of champagne stand waiting by a bottle nestling in an ice bucket. James sweeps up the glasses and hands her one.

'You look so beautiful, Clara,' he says, as they clink glasses.

'Do I?' she replies.

Clara likes compliments.

'The most beautiful woman I've ever seen.'

Now at this point, in a conventional love scene of the period, you might be anticipating, my expectant reader, that Clara and James would engage in rather conventional sex. The missionary position springs to mind. After all, the Victorian age — a byword for prudery — ended only a dozen or so years previously. At this stage, you don't know a lot about James other than that he works at the Foreign Office and Clara — whom you know quite a lot about — has fallen in love with him. The thought that he's a civil servant might have led you to believe that he is a somewhat unexciting character. Maybe you've been a little afraid for Clara — afraid that she is about to make the same mistake twice, by becoming involved with a man who turns out to be not what she expected.

But I actually have a surprise in store for you because, whatever else we will learn about the other parts of James' life, when it comes to sex, he is anything but dull. And in this he and Clara are going to find themselves perfectly matched. Given the right circumstances, Clara is openly, wildly passionate — even predatorily so. James, on the other hand, is happy to be led but sometimes will take the lead. Both people in their own ways are prepared to test limits.

And while Clara has only known (in a biblical sense) one other man — her husband — James, apart from his ex-wife, also had a love affair — before he was married — with a French woman he met while on holiday in France. She was a couple of years older than him and had determined to educate him. After all, that would heighten her pleasure too. And indeed it did. One of the greatest compliments James was ever paid in his life was when she said that what he was lacking in expérience he more than made up for in enthusiasm.

And so Clara stands opposite him. She is in her nightdress but he is still fully dressed. (He is in shirtsleeves and has removed his tie.) Clara steps past him and climbs onto the bed. (The covers have already been pulled back.)

'Aren't you joining me?' she asks coquettishly.

'Are you cold?'

This is one of the things that Clara likes about James. She has liked it from the first time she met him. She's never quite sure what he's going to say and sometimes what he does say is not at all what she was expecting. She looks at him, puzzled.

'No, the room is lovely and warm,' she says.

'Then you won't mind taking your nightdress off, will you?'

'Why should I?' says Clara teasingly.

'I'll make it worth your while,' says James.

'And what about you, Private Walters — are you going to undress as well?'

(You may have been wondering, curious reader, why James is not an officer — in particular, a second lieutenant, as this would be the conventional thing for an author to do with an upper-middle class male character of this period. However, you will have to wait a few chapters before you get the answer to that question.)

'I am, but not just yet.'

'So it's just me?' she says in surprise.

'It's just you.'

Clara does as she is told. She slips off the bed, her feet landing on a deep, warm, fluffy rug. She lifts the nightdress off over her head so that she stands naked in front of him. A memory of the statue in the park comes into her head. A dream she had soon after she met James and when her world had not yet been turned upside down. She knows she looks beautiful. She feels beautiful. She finds she is not at all anxious or fearful about what he will think. She trusts him completely. She looks up at him. (He is a good six or seven inches taller than her.)

'You are so, so beautiful,' he says, his voice soft, almost a whisper.

'I'm glad you like it.'

'Are you sure you're not cold?' he asks.

'I am a little now.'

'So hop into bed and cover yourself up. Lie across it.'

The bed is so wide that she can do that. Her head rests near the far side and her feet protrude slightly over this side. She pulls up the heavy bedclothes over herself. They are wonderfully warm.

James kneels on this side of the bed and puts his head in under the covers. Next moment Clara feels her legs parted gently and then there is a kiss on her thigh. The effect is electric. There is a surge of moisture in her vagina. She has never known a feeling like it before. James proceeds to kiss his way up her thigh. Then he does the same on the other thigh, starting near her knee and working his way slowly upwards. James pauses.

Clara finds that she is whimpering. Why he is not kissing her there? Her legs are parted. She is open, waiting for him. She pushes her groin towards him but he withdraws a fraction. Impatiently she throws off the covers and at that moment, he strokes her with his tongue. With this single movement she feels herself opening. He begins to kiss her and lick her and tongue her. She climaxes within a couple of minutes.

Ever since she discovered it, when she was in her teens, Clara has loved sex. Her experience of sex with other people has been limited to Henry and this, her first night with James. Clara knows that the most important sex organ is not the penis or the vagina or the breasts or anything else. It is the head, the brain, the imagination. She has often imagined the conversation she will have with her girls on this very subject once they grow up. Unlike most mothers, Clara would feel no compunction about discussing this with her children.

Clara's imagination has been fertile indeed in anticipation of this night. She met James on Monday June 29th last. She was in love with him by the 29th of July — if not before that. She has spent many hours imagining her and James together. The result has been that since the telegram yesterday, Clara has been like a gun with a hair trigger or, as she's thought of it, a barrel of gunpowder with a short fuse. Tonight, James lit the fuse and shortly after that, Clara exploded.

Clara's orgasm lasted for more than two minutes. It was helped by James who continued to lick at her clitoris until she had to clamp her legs together and use her knees and hands to push him away. At one stage she did actually think she was going to die.

'I'm so embarrassed,' she says a little while later as they sit against the headboard drinking their glasses of champagne. (Clara is not embarrassed at all.) 'That was so unladylike. What must you think of me? You'd hardly touched me.'

'It certainly was quick. You enjoyed it then?'

'That would be one word you could use. And now it must be your turn.'

'In a little while,' he says. 'Do you need some food?'

'I do actually. I'm absolutely starving after that.'

'Well, we must take care of the inner woman.'

'Later,' she says. 'Food first.'


Excerpted from "Candlelight"
by .
Copyright © 2014 Fergus O'Connell.
Excerpted by permission of Wimbledon Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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