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The Heaven That Is Home

The Heaven That Is Home

New York Times bestselling author Sharon Page introduces readers to Nigel Hazelton, the future Duke of Langford, as he leaves his home, Brideswell Abbey, and faces the dangers and horror of WW1 in this prequel novella…

Beginning with the battle of the Somme, Nigel Hazelton is thrown into the dangers of trench warfare. Memories of his home of Brideswell Abbey and the fiancée he left behind keep him alive. He has vowed to protect his sister Julia’s fiancé from the dangers of battle—but is that a promise he can keep?

When Nigel commits a daring act of bravery with no thought to his own safety, will his fiancée still love him despite the wounds he has suffered? Or has war changed Nigel too much…?

Read an Excerpt

The train pulled into the station, chugging through a veil of steam. Whistles blew, porters rushed forward. Nigel opened his door and stepped out onto the platform.

He was out of battle temporarily, on leave. This was the first time he’d returned to England after he had first reached the front in late 1914, when the king and government had realized the British Expeditionary Force was outgunned and outmanned by the massive German army. When Germany began its march through Belgium, as it carried out its Schlieffen Plan, its army totalled about four million trained men.

Britain desperately needed to build its forces. So he had volunteered early.

Haig had called a halt to the Somme assault, and Nigel had been granted leave from the front. He had taken the trip by train—fortunately the lines and the stations were under Allied control and not blown to bits—and then by boat across the Channel, where he caught the steam locomotive to cross England and travel into Hertfordshire.

He was puzzled by the scent in the air as he walked down the platform through the fading wraiths of steam. It was a foreign smell, but familiar.

Then he knew. It was strange because there was no stench. Just the fresh, clean country smells of grass, and meadows, and manure. He’d gotten used to the stink of trenches: human waste and rotting bodies and the smell of shells, of burned cordite and ash. The smells of normal life seemed wrong.

The porters and stationmaster recognized him.

“We’re putting on a good show over there, my lord,” the stationmaster said jovially.

“I hope so,” Nigel answered.

He kept his right hand clenched. The last few days, it shook on its own and he could not control it unless he gripped it into a tight fist.

There was quiet except for the chuffing of the engine, the sounds of people disembarking— meeting their loved ones, directing the care of their baggage. He felt like he had stepped down a rabbit hole. There was no reason for it, but he was tense. Expectant. Waiting.

He was home, but not home. He had only three days at Brideswell, then he was to travel to London to do work with the War Office. One of the cars from the house was waiting for him. The chauffeur, a man beyond the age to volunteer for war, touched his cap, and loaded Nigel’s bag in the boot.

The car took him past the farms on the estate, where life looked untouched. It wasn’t. Most of the men were gone. Women, old men, and young boys drove the tractors and did the laboring.

As he passed the farm fields, Nigel closed his eyes. His thoughts flashed to the fields of France and Belgium. Acres of churned mud with puddles of dirty red blood and dead men buried beneath. Buildings shattered by shells into piles of blasted stone. Trees burned to black stumps.

England could end up like that. He was fighting to save his country, this world.

In the back of the taxi, Nigel unfolded a newspaper he’d purchased in London at the station. Headlines gave him news he already knew. Details of the Somme. But the details were skewed to keep morale high at home and to encourage men to enlist. The real horrors, the devastating loss of human life…the lack of food, the rats, the lice, the stench of death, the revolting numbness you now felt when you watched a man get blown apart and you wiped pieces of him off you…all that was kept out of the newspapers. It was kept out of the letters sent home from the front—those were censored.

London was being bombed by zeppelins—England wasn’t removed from war. Men were training, and on his leave, he would visit those units, he would go to the hospitals. He would still be immersed in war.

But for the days he was home, he had to keep his silence. War was a secret he would take with him to his grave. There was no need for his family to know what it was actually like.

As the car carried on, Nigel rubbed his right shoulder. It still ached with a low, constant pain from the first battle of the Somme, when he’d been thrown back by the shell blast.

It was good to come home, though. If he hadn’t come to Brideswell, would he have remembered what he wanted to live for?
He wanted other men to live, the soldiers who served under him. He was afraid he was starting to not care so much about himself.

“You get tired of worrying about which bullet has got your name on it,” one man said.

After the battles, Nigel worked late, by low lamplight, preparing the lists of dead and wounded. He took great care. God, he couldn’t bear to think about making a mistake. Telling a woman her husband or her son was dead when he wasn’t.

When they were in the rear of the line, on reserve, he had volunteered to dig the graves. The men were exhausted from digging—trenches, latrines in the reserve area, tunnels beneath German lines to pack with explosives. So he had taken a shovel, stripped to his waist under the humid July heat, and dug at the earth while other men looked at him in surprise.

Being a duke’s son gave him a position as an officer, and it could have given him more safety if he’d been willing to take it. But he insisted on being in the trenches with his men. He didn’t want to be out of it.

The car passed through the open gates of Brideswell. The hedges, once tamed into austere shapes, shot out haphazard branches. Only the old gardener, Hodges was left—the young men were at war.

The tires rolled over the smooth gravel drive, and he opened his window and leaned his head out to get a better look at the house.

It stood solid and strong, a square-shaped edifice sitting atop smooth, sloping lawns. The beige stone was mellowed with centuries of wind and rain. Towers and black ironwork pushed up into the sky, into the heavy grey clouds, like a knight holding up his sword in victory. It was a beautiful building, built to stand for a thousand years.

Nigel loved Brideswell on the cold, dull days. The grounds were made for walking, riding, shooting. At the end of the day he would return, the hounds trotting at his side, and he would walk into the drawing room through the terrace doors, where a blazing fire would be warming the room.

The car turned into the large circle in front of the house.