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Authors: Catrin Collier

Magda's Daughter

Magda's Daughter

CATRIN COLLIER

First published in Great Britain in 2008 by Orion

This edition published by Accent Press 2013

Copyright © Catrin Collier 2008

The right of Catrin Collier to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

The story contained within this book is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author's imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers: Accent Press Ltd, Ty Cynon House, Navigation Park, Abercynon, CF45 4SN

ISBN 9781783750634

www.accentpress.co.uk

For the dedicated postmistress of Upper Killay, Ivy, and her husband Erich Ubischek, with many thanks for their help in reading my translations and taking such care of my manuscripts.

Catrin Collier was born and brought up in Pontypridd. She lives in Swansea with her husband, three cats and whichever of her children choose to visit.
Magda's Daughter
is the ninth novel in the highly acclaimed
Hearts of Gold
series.

Works by Catrin Collier

The
Hearts of Gold
series:

Hearts of Gold

One Blue Moon

A Silver Lining

All That Glitters

Such Sweet Sorrow

Past Remembering

Broken Rainbows

Spoils of War

Other series:

Swansea Girls

Brothers and Lovers

(
including
Black-eyed Devils
- QuickReads)

Novels:

One Last Summer

Magda's Daughter

The Long Road To Baghdad

As Katherine John:

Without Trace

Midnight Murders

Murder of a Dead Man

By Any Other Name

The Amber Knight

Black Daffodil

A Well Deserved Murder

Destruction of Evidence

The Corpse's Tale
(QuickReads)

Chapter One

Ned John picked up a blue inflatable chair from the centre of the threadbare rug in his bed-sit and walked down the passageway to the communal kitchen. Helena Janek was leaning on the ironing board, her back to him. Her tartan mini-kilt swung high, revealing tantalizing expanses of slim, white, tight-clad thighs, as she pushed the iron over her long blonde hair.

‘One day you're going to burn yourself doing that, sunshine,' he warned.

She looked sideways at him. ‘Showing my legs or ironing my hair?'

‘Ironing your hair. I think you've already been burned for showing your legs.'

‘Only by you, and I'd say warmed rather than burned. As for my head – better a minor burn than curly hair.' She pushed the iron aside and studied the results of her handiwork in the blotched mirror that hung over the sink. Satisfied there wasn't a hint of wave left, she unplugged the iron and folded away the board.

‘You wouldn't be quite so cavalier if you have to wait hours in casualty for treatment.' He pulled her towards him before remembering why he'd come looking for her. ‘I take it everything that's left in our room is rubbish?'

‘Not everything.'

‘The car is full.'

‘I only want to keep one or two small things. I'll slip them into my suitcases.'

‘Your suitcases are already in the boot. And given the job I had closing them, it seems you don't understand the concept of full. The car has room for two more items – me and you. Although after seeing what you've stacked on the passenger seat to carry on your lap, I'm not too sure about you. So this,' Ned batted the plastic chair towards her, ‘has reached the end of its life.'

‘No!' Helena wrapped her arms protectively around it. ‘It's the first thing we bought together.'

‘You mean it was the first mistake we made, and you talked me into it,' Ned teased.

‘Ned John –'

‘Go on, admit it. It's more comfortable to sprawl on the floor, especially when we sprawl together.' He winked at her.

‘But it's such a pretty blue.' She led the way back to their bedsit.

Ned unclipped a safety pin from his sweater. ‘Time for a ceremonial bursting.'

‘Don't you dare.' Helena backed towards the window. ‘I'll deflate it. It will fold down to practically nothing.'

‘There's no room in the car for “practically nothing”. And the quickest way to deflate it is with this.'

‘Over my dead body.'

‘It's only a chair, and a useless one at that.' Ned leaned against the door and looked around. ‘This room looks weird without your mess.'

‘
My
mess?'

‘All right. Our mess: These, I take it, are full of rubbish?' He pointed to two cardboard boxes packed with newspapers and magazines.

‘Yes.' She frowned. ‘Although there's an article on pop art in last week's
Observer
that I meant to save, and one on Byron –'

‘They'll print them again.' He picked up the boxes and carried them out before she could start rummaging.

Helena dropped the inflatable chair in front of the window and balanced carefully on it. She had learned from experience that if she didn't get her weight distribution just right, it tipped over. She looked around. Ned was right. Stripped of the embroidered tablecloths, hangings and posters which she had used to cover the grubby wallpaper, the rickety bed, stained sofa and chipped table, the room did look weird. Bare, shabby and unwelcoming, yet it had been home to both of them for eighteen months. Now, it was just another nondescript bed-sit waiting for the next tenant.

She opened the window, leaned out and watched Ned stack the boxes next to the bins. Even after two years of what her mother quaintly called ‘courtship', eighteen months of living with Ned and six months of engagement, she still couldn't believe he was hers. She recalled all the times she had sat just where she was now, ostensibly studying, but really watching and waiting for him to return from the interminable shifts he had worked in the hospital. She recalled the thrill she'd felt whenever she had seen his tall, well-built figure striding along the pavement beneath her, his auburn hair shining. She would wait in anticipation for his tread on the uncarpeted stairs …

‘If I'd known how reluctant you'd be to leave, I'd never have suggested moving to Pontypridd a month before our wedding.' He was back already.

‘I was miles away.' She swallowed hard before turning around in the hope that he wouldn't realise she was close to tears. ‘We've been happy here.'

‘Slum that it is, we have,' Ned agreed. ‘But I hope we'll never have to live in anything quite so awful again.'

‘It's not a slum.'

‘I suppose the place had its good points. Along with a shared bathroom and kitchen, I had you.' He held out his arms and she went to him, leaning her head against his chest.

‘Love you.'

‘Love you, too. Just think, six weeks from now we'll be in our new house with a bathroom and kitchen of our very own. And there won't be any marauding law students to steal our food.'

‘That's six weeks away. I hate the thought of losing you.'

‘You're hardly doing that, when we'll be married in four, and honeymooning for two,' he observed in amusement.

‘After living apart for a month.'

‘The house is ready. You could move in there with me now. You were the one who didn't want to shock your mother,' he reminded her.

‘She'd never talk to me again if she knew we'd lived in sin.'

Ned suppressed the urge to say, ‘That would be a plus.' Instead he said, ‘We could have another go at trying to persuade her that this is the 1960s not the 1930s?'

‘You know my mother. When it comes to morality, she's behind the times.'

‘And very Catholic.' Ned's refusal to convert to Catholicism had caused the deepest of several rifts between him and Helena's widowed mother, Magda, who'd wanted her only child to celebrate her marriage with a full mass, not the ceremony reserved for ‘mixed marriages'. Even now he wasn't sure why he'd held out. Not when he'd conceded that any children they had would be brought up in Helena's faith.

‘I thought we'd agreed not to discuss religion, or my mother, any more.' One of the side effects of Helena's strict upbringing was a loathing of arguments. Especially with people she loved.

‘We did. I only wish I could understand the Catholic preoccupation with morality and guilt. Before I met you I used to think all you Papists had to do was nip down to the confessional, tell the priest a few titillating stories to brighten his day, say a couple of Hail Marys, and hey presto – absolution and a clean slate, all ready to blot again. But you haven't been to confession once since we moved in together.'

‘And I won't while we continue to sin.' She became serious, as she always did whenever they discussed her Church.

‘What sin?' He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her neck. ‘Practically every couple we know is shacked up together.'

‘But none of them has told their parents. You haven't even told yours.'

‘Not officially, but they're not stupid.'

‘Are you saying my mother is?' she bristled.

‘Of course not, sunshine,' he said hastily. ‘But she is a little naive if she expects me to keep my hands off you until our wedding night. Talking of which …' He pulled the sleeveless, black-ribbed, polo­necked sweater she was wearing free from the waistband of her kilt and slid his hands beneath it.

‘Ned, we've stripped the bed …'

‘And now it's time to strip something else.' He silenced her with a kiss. Kicking the door shut with his heel, he pulled up her sweater. ‘Promise me you'll never wear a bra.' He kissed each of her breasts in turn before unclipping her skirt and tugging at her tights.

‘You're insatiable.'

‘So are you, and it wouldn't be the first time we've made love on this floor.' He swung her off her feet and dropped her gently onto the carpet.

‘But it will be the last.'

‘No more nostalgia until we get in the car,' he pleaded. ‘Not while we've one more memory to make inside these walls.'

‘You two finally off?' Alan, who lived in one of the ground-floor bed-sits, eyed the two bulging plastic bags that Ned was carrying down the stairs.

‘As soon as I've dumped this rubbish and Helena's cried her last goodbye.'

‘I heard that,' Helena called after him.

‘You were meant to. The time you're taking, it will be midnight before we reach Pontypridd.' Ned dropped the bags, pulled out his keyring, slipped the front door and room keys from it, setting them on the table that held the mail.

‘Lucky sods,' Alan murmured. ‘I'd move if l could afford a better place. Living on the first floor you've never had to share a kitchen or bathroom with the terrible twins. It took Angela half an hour to scrub the bath free from mud pack last night before she could use it.'

The terrible twins were two Mods from Reading who looked, talked and dressed exactly alike in Mary Quant mini-dresses and black kiss curls, which they stuck to their cheeks with false eyelash glue.

Helena carried the inflatable chair down the stairs. Propping it behind her, out of Ned's reach, she took her keys from her handbag and handed them to Alan. ‘Apart from raiding our food cupboard when they come back from the pub, the boys on our floor aren't too bad. You and Angie could move into our room.'

‘We could, couldn't we?' Alan took her keys and scooped up Ned's from the table. ‘Thanks, I wouldn't have thought of that.'

‘And thanks for letting us know about this place.' Ned held out his hand and Alan shook it. ‘It was all you said it would be: cheap, friendly, close to the university and the hospital. Noisy, unsanitary and infested with two-legged rats.'

‘You referring to me and Angie?' Alan asked.

‘The boys on our floor, who enjoy nibbling what doesn't belong to them,' Ned replied.

‘Look forward to seeing you and Angie at the wedding.' Helena kissed Alan's cheek.

‘And the bachelor party.' Alan clapped Ned on the back. ‘My first in Wales. Should I bring a leek?'

‘Just your passport,' Ned joked. ‘Without it, they may not allow you across the border. ‘

Alan threw a playful punch at the chair. ‘I remember the night I tried to balance my beer on that and got soaked.'

Ned unclipped the pin from his sweater again. ‘Helena wants to take it. There's no room in the car and I don't fancy wasting time trying to squash all the air out of it.'

‘Could you use it, Alan?' Helena asked.

‘Given the state of the furniture in this place, all donations will be gratefully received.'

Helena handed it over. ‘I'd like to think of it staying in our room.'

‘A monument to our lost love – except our love isn't lost. And it's our room no longer.' Ned went outside and dumped the bags by the dustbins. ‘As for Helena's chair, Alan, make sure it has plenty of fresh air. Bathe it once a week and sing lullabies to it every night, or Helena will come back and haunt you.'

‘The only promise I'll make is that I'll christen it again in beer from time to time.' Alan wolf-whistled when Helena's kilt rode up as she climbed into Ned's MG.

‘Stop ogling my girl,' Ned warned, not entirely humorously. ‘You're one lucky sod,' Alan said. ‘Long blonde hair, innocent blue eyes and legs up to her neck. Do me a favour, Helena, tell Angie how you grew them?'

‘I'm more likely to advise her to look for another boyfriend.'

‘I'm free anytime in the next month if you want to leave Ned and elope with me. Law pays more than medicine in the long run.'

‘Thanks, but no thanks, Alan.' She blew him a kiss as Ned drove away.

‘You've hardly said a word since we left Bristol.' Ned slipped his hand on to Helena's knee as they drove out of the Cardiff suburbs and headed north. ‘I hope you're not considering Alan's offer.'

‘He's besotted with Angie; he'd run a mile if I took him seriously.'

‘I'd rather you didn't put him to the test.'

‘I've no intention of trying. I was just thinking how much has happened to us in the last two years.'

‘And more good things will happen to us in the next few years.' He glanced across at her. ‘Stop worrying. You'll get the job.'

‘And if I don't?'

‘We'll survive on my salary and start that family we talked about sooner rather than later. And then you won't have to wrestle with your conscience about the Pope's edict on the contraceptive pill. As if any priest has the right to tell anyone how to live their personal life.'

‘You're starting another argument.'

‘Sorry,' he apologised, ‘but it makes my blood boil to think that anyone, let alone a sworn celibate, whatever his rank in the Church, believes that they have the right to meddle in people's sex lives.'

‘I've told you that I don't want to be just a housewife.' Helena deliberately changed the subject.

‘You agreed you'd want to stay at home and look after our children when the time came.'

‘Only after I've established my career so I can return to it when they're old enough.'

‘Perhaps by then we'll be able to afford a nanny to look after our eleven children while you work.'

‘Eleven? Last week it was twelve.' She switched on the car radio.

‘I've decided twelve would be excessive.' The seductive sound of Danny Williams singing ‘MoonRiver' filled the car. ‘They're playing our song. That has to be a good omen.'

Not wanting to think about good or bad omens lest she hex her chances of getting her dream job, she ignored his comment. ‘I wonder how my mother will take to being a grandmother.'

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