Belle Reilly is only twenty, but has survived a painful, brutal and terrifying past. She is now happily married to her childhood sweetheart, Jimmy, and they live with his uncle Garth and Mog, Belle’s surrogate mother, above the public house Garth owns and runs with Jimmy.
Belle has realized her dream to own a hat shop. She has built up a respectable business for herself as milliner to the ladies of Blackheath and the surrounding area. She is happy and hopes that the cruelty of her past is now firmly behind her. One day, Etienne, her rescuer and the man she fell in love when she was sixteen, walks into her shop. He has tried to keep away from the beautiful girl that captured his heart a few years before, but his guilt at the part he played in her past kept him away and from telling her how he feels. He has only come back to see for himself that Belle does have the life he believes she deserves.
Belle has done her best to forget Etienne. She is grateful to him for rescuing her from near-death in Paris and for helping her return to Jimmy and Mog, but seeing him again has stirred up guilty feelings for a man she cannot have.
Jimmy is delighted when Belle falls pregnant. Soon after, she witnesses an accident and comes to the aid of an upper-class girl, Miranda. Belle helps Miranda and soon the two become close friends. Jimmy is carried away by the rousing patriotism when war is declared and much to Belle’s horror, he enlists. Belle carries on running her shop in Jimmy’s absence and makes plans for when their baby is born. That is, until a stranger enters her shop and his actions set off a chain of events that change the course of all their lives.
This book is the sequel to, Belle, Lesley Pearse’s previous novel. You don’t have to have read, Belle to fully appreciate, The Promise, but if you haven’t read it, you’ve missed a treat. The Promise takes the reader from the peace of Blackheath to the chaos, mud and horror of the Western Front, an era that particularly fascinates me. The author brilliantly depicts the nightmare both Etienne and Jimmy face in the trenches, the repercussions of the battles those nursing the damaged men endure, and the loved ones who have to care for them, while at the same time never forgetting the love stories within this excellent novel.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It was enchanting.