Chapter 1 – Charmed
Hazel had been on her feet since sunrise but the dinnertime rush was about to start and she would have no time to take a break until the endless stream of customers were all served. Market days were always the same but the early spring sunshine had brought more people into town. She didn’t mind. Being busy meant the day went faster.
When the breakfast dishes had been cleared, the late morning shoppers appeared. They ordered tea and cakes, and whatever else took their fancy. Cynthia Ward’s reputation for her baked goods was what kept the small café in business during the depression. With so many heavy industries laying people off up and down the country, it was a miracle that Wards’ café still thrived, but it did. Hazel was glad of it. She was grateful for the waitressing job.
A tall young man poked his head around the door. “What’s the pie of the day, love?” he called in a rich, deep voice.
Hazel glanced to see who was asking and yelled, “Corned beef and potato,” without needing to confirm with her boss. She’d seen Cynthia making the large tray of pie earlier. “Shut the door, love. Have a mind for my customers. It’s freezing out there.”
“Sorry.” He stepped inside quickly and closed the door. “Do you have a table free?” The tall young man glanced around the busy place, turning his cap in his hands.
“Over there in the corner will be empty soon, but can you give Mrs Turner a minute to get her coat on?” She called to the older woman. “You’ll be going to meet your Pat off the bus in a minute, won’t you, Mrs Turner?”
“Aye, lass. I’ll get out of your way.” The older woman stood and began to put on her coat. “I can see this hungry young fella wants my table.” Mrs Turner giggled at the stranger and struggled to find her coat sleeve.
The young man stepped closer and took the older woman’s coat to help her into it. “There you go, Mrs, Thanks for giving up your table. I wouldn’t have minded waiting a bit.”
“No trouble, love. As young Hazel said, I’m off to meet my Pat. We always do the market together on Thursday afternoons.”
Hazel opened the door for the woman. “See you next week, Mrs Turner.”
“Aye, lass. I expect you will, God willing.” She clutched her coat closer and stepped into the blustering wind. “Ta-rah!”
“Ta-rah, love.” Hazel shut the door on the cold wind and turned her attention back to her waiting customers. “Be with you in a minute,” she called to the newcomer. “I just need to get Mr Whitaker’s bangers and mash from the kitchen.”
Hazel knew all her regulars by name. She’d been working in the café since leaving school at fourteen almost five years ago. There wasn’t much she didn’t know about her regular customers, and new ones always intrigued her. She looked at the table in the corner where the young man had taken a seat. He was watching her, and she quickly averted her eyes.
She smoothed her hands down her crisp white pinafore and hurried to get Mr Whitaker’s dinner.
Cynthia was lifting the tray-baked pie from the steaming oven when Hazel walked into the kitchen.
“Two more fish and chips with tea but no bread and butter for table four, and Mr and Mrs Brown have asked for bacon and eggs. I told ‘em we finished serving breakfast half-an-hour since, but I promised I’d ask.”
“I don’t mind making an exception for the Browns.” The older woman glanced through the serving hatch. “They probably can’t afford the dinner menu. He was laid off last week. I’m surprised to see ‘em in here at all.”
“My dad said the mines around here are still making money and shouldn’t be laying anyone off. Poor Mr Brown!”
“I think he was getting past it, love.” Cynthia spooned mash onto a plate and added some sausages from a frying pan. “Once you can’t pull your weight down them mines, you’re given the bullet, and that’s that.”
“He’s not much older than my dad. What will they do if he can’t get another job?” Hazel felt sorry for the old couple. She knew they had two boys who were working now, but their young sons’ wages wouldn’t go far to support the whole family and one of boys was engaged to be married.
“Let’s hope they don’t have to resort to the workhouse, eh?” The older woman poured some gravy from a large jug onto the plate. “If they can afford to eat in here they can’t be too badly off. Now Mr Whitaker is worrying me. He’s nothing but skin and bone these days, poor mite. I gave him an extra banger. He looks as if he could do with fattening up a bit.”
“I noticed he’s looking a bit off it.” Hazel took the plate of sausage and mash and leant closer to Cynthia. “Did you see the new customer?”
“I heard him. Can’t mistake that one, can I? Sends a shiver down your spine, that voice, doesn’t it?”
“He does have a lovely voice, Cynthia.” Hazel giggled, wondering what her boss meant about a shivery spine.
“I think he’s Bertie Bradshaw’s youngest lad. He works in a colliery over Ossett way. From what I can gather he’s a bit of a rogue.”
Hazel chuckled. “Is there anyone around here you don’t know?”
“Not many, love. It pays to keep in touch when you’re in business.”
“I think he wants the pie, but I’ll check.” Hazel took the recently filled plate to an old man sitting alone by the steamy window. “There you go, love. Cynthia put an extra banger on for you. She thinks you look a bit peaky today and I have to agree. Are you feeling all right, Mr Whitaker?”
“Cheeky young madam!” The old man grabbed his knife and fork. “There’s nowt wrong wi’ me, but I’ll not be refusing her generosity. Tell her I said thank you.”
“I will.” Hazel hurried to the Brown’s table. “Cynthia will do you the bacon and eggs. She’s on with it now so you won’t have to wait long.”
“Thanks, lass.” Mrs Brown fiddled with the bag on her lap. “We’re not very hungry today, and Mr Brown just fancied a bit of bacon.”
The woman seemed ready to say more, but Hazel quickly got in first. “It’s no trouble, will you excuse me, please.”
She didn’t want to get into a conversation with the elderly pair. She was too busy for chit-chat. Another couple had just walked in and were looking for a table. She didn’t recognise them and thought it must be a day for newcomers.
She noticed the Walker sisters were gathering their things together and called to the newly arrived couple. “If you can wait five minutes, I can squeeze you in at the back.”
“Right you are, miss.”
She hurried to the young man in the corner and took out her notebook and pencil. “Sorry to keep you waiting. Was it the pie you wanted?”
He lifted his dark eyes to her, and she felt an unexpected buzz of anticipation in her tummy. She hadn’t really looked at him before, but now she could see how handsome he was. His dark hair was cut short at the sides and back but flopped over his forehead in a wave. She felt an irresistible urge to reach out and smooth it back from his face, but she held her pencil firmly.
“What would you have if you were eating your dinner here?” he asked in that rich baritone, his eyes never leaving hers.
He seemed to look right into her mind, and she felt flustered. “I’d err… I have my dinner here every day. The pie really is good. Cynthia works magic with the pastry.” She gave him the answer she’d given hundreds of times to many other customers over the years, but this time her voice held a slight tremble. “Will you want mushy peas with that?”
“Yes, please.” His mouth twitched into a smile. “A pot of tea as well. Do you make it strong here?”
“You can stand your spoon up in it,” she quipped, feeling suddenly carefree and reckless under his disturbingly enticing gaze.
“Then I’ll have a pot of tea as well.”
“Coming right up, Mr Bradshaw.”
As she moved away, he grabbed her wrist, and she was trapped. She glanced at his broad dark hand wrapped around her slim white arm and turned a puzzled frown to him. Her skin seemed ultra sensitive to his touch. She could feel the warmth of him from every ridge of his fingers, and she found it an unnerving experience.
“How do you know my name?” he asked. “We haven’t met before, have we? I’m sure I would remember meeting such a pretty girl as you.”
“Oh, I see.” She breathed a small sigh of relief but blushed at his compliment. “Cynthia, I mean, Mrs Ward knows your family, I think. She wasn’t sure, but she thought you were Bertie Bradshaw’s youngest son.”
“Give the woman a medal. That’s who I am all right.” He released her arm and took her hand to shake it. “I am indeed, Glenn Bradshaw and I’m very pleased to make your acquaintance.”
She smiled shyly and tugged her hand from his. Not wanting to seem unfriendly, she blurted, “I’m Hazel.”
“I know, the old lady said so when I helped her with her coat.”
“Oh,” Hazel felt her tongue freeze to the roof of her mouth with a bout of nervousness.
“That’s a lovely name for a lovely girl.”
His dark eyes held hers for a few seconds more and she had to tear herself away from them. “I must get on, excuse me, please.” She turned and hurried away.
His touch had sent sizzles of what she imagined flashes of lightning might feel like, and she could still sense the sensation on her skin where his fingers had grabbed her wrist. What was happening to her, she wondered?
She gave his order to Cynthia and went back to settle the new couple at the table vacated by the Walker sisters. She automatically cleared the plates and gave the table cover a flick with her cloth to remove some crumbs. She took their order and hurried back to the kitchen trying to remember what they’d asked for. Her encounter with young Mr Bradshaw had unsettled her mind, and her insides seemed to be doing somersaults.
“Mr Bradshaw wants the pie with mushy peas.”
Cynthia cracked eggs into a frying pan and turned to begin plating the next meal.
“Chops, mash and cabbage for table six, I think.” Hazel reached for the plate piled high with pie and peas.
“You think?” Cynthia laughed. “Aren’t you sure what they ordered?”
“I’ll double check on my way back.” Hazel couldn’t believe she’d been so careless as not to listen to the order. Her mind was too busy elsewhere.
She tucked some cutlery into her pinafore pocket and carried the plate carefully to Mr Bradshaw’s table. Her hands were shaking as she placed the plate in front of him. “I hope you enjoy the pie.”
“What about my pot of tea?”
His eyebrows danced up and down, and Hazel couldn’t help giggling like a nervous schoolgirl.
“Sorry, I only have one pair of hands. I’ll bring it right out.” She rushed back to table six to confirm their order and then checked on a few more customers on her way back to the kitchen, trying to stay focused on her work.
“I was right. Table six both want the chops.” She poured a strong brew from the tea urn into a large mug, and grabbed a small jug of milk from the counter. “I’ll be right back for the fish and chips for table four.”
She hurried back to Mr Bradshaw’s table with his tea. “Sorry about the delay.” She set the mug and jug down on the white tablecloth, but her hands were trembling so much, the tea slopped onto the clean cover. “Oh, goodness! I’m so sorry!”
She pulled a cloth from her pocket to mop up the spill. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me today. I seem to be all of a dither.”
“No harm done, Hazel.” He touched her hand gently. “You do seem a bit jittery. Are you feeling well?”
“Quite well, thank you!” she answered briskly and then thought she might have sounded rude. “I’m ready for a break, though. I’ve been on my feet since dawn.”
“When do you take your break?” he asked, with the warmth from his eyes melting her insides.
“When the dinner rush is over,” she answered without thinking. “I take a plate of something and sit at one of the empty tables but if they’re all full, I sometimes sit outside if it isn’t raining. Cynthia takes over for ten minutes.”
“Ten minutes! Is that all the break you get?” He put down his cutlery and seemed genuinely concerned. “Even we take thirty minutes in the mine to eat our dinner unless we hit a good seam and then it’s all hands to the shovels.” He laughed, and his warm, throaty chuckle echoed around the small café, making people lift their heads to look at him.
His good humour warmed her heart, and she smiled at him. “I only need ten minutes. Cynthia works just as hard as me, and I don’t like to take advantage.”
He grabbed her hand and pulled her close. “Do you have a sweetheart?”
The breath caught in her throat. She knew the other customers were staring at her, and she tried to pull her hand from his, but he held it tightly. “Please let me go. I have a job to do.”
“Not until you tell me if you’re available.”
“Available for what?” She tugged again but felt as weak as a kitten against his strength.
“To walk out with me, of course.” The young man also seemed aware of the other customers watching and played to his audience. He raised his deep voice to include the customers in his conversation, “Do you think I might be lucky enough to persuade this pretty lass to walk out with me?”
Gasps and nods of approval rippled around the café. “How romantic!” Hazel heard Mrs Brown say above the general hubbub.
“My dad wouldn’t allow it. I’m not old enough!” Hazel said firmly.
“In that case, I’ll have to wait for you.” He let go her hand, but his eyes held hers magnetically.
“These fish and chips are getting cold, Hazel!” Cynthia called from the kitchen, breaking the spell.
“I have to go.” Hazel reluctantly left his table. She felt her face growing hotter as she made her way through the tables to the kitchen. All the customers were grinning at her. Even grumpy Mr Whitaker was smiling and nodding his approval.
“What on earth is going on out there?” Cynthia asked, placing two plates of food into Hazel’s hands. “I heard a lot of giggling.”
“Glenn Bradshaw asked me to walk out with him!” Hazel still couldn’t believe what she’d heard. “The nerve of him! In front of everyone like that! What sort of girl does he think I am?”
“One who deserves to be asked out by a good-looking young man, by the sound of it?” Cynthia’s rosy cheeks dimpled as she grinned widely. “Though, I’d be wary of getting too close to Bertie Bradshaw’s son, no matter how handsome he might be. That family don’t have the best reputation.”
“What do you mean?” Hazel asked.
Cynthia sighed. “It’s a long story and them fish and chips won’t be worth eating if you don’t take ‘em out now!”
Hazel hurried away with the plates, but her mind was in a spin. The young man wanted to walk out with her. It was the first time any lad had asked, but he wasn’t a lad. He was a man. A very handsome man too, with a lovely voice to match. She delivered the food and glanced at his table. Glenn Bradshaw was staring at her, and she felt the heat creep into her cheeks.
“You could do worse, lass!” Mr Brown patted her arm as she passed his table. “He’d be a catch and no doubt about it!”
Hazel glanced again at the handsome young man before turning her attention back to the customer. “I’ll get your bacon and eggs now, Mr Brown.” She hurried back to the kitchen, wondering how she would get through the rest of the dinnertime rush when everyone was talking about her.