Breaking Faith was first published as a paperback 3 years ago and, on 24 October 2010, I published it as an ebook through Smashwords and on Amazon Kindle. I'm now posting individual chapters here on the blog, so that anyone who wishes can read the book in full and free of charge.
The Prologue, which begins the novel, was posted on 6 January. Here's a link, if you missed it: http://stuartaken.blogspot.com/2012/01/read-free-my-novel-here.html .
Chapter 1 was posted on 13 January and the link can be found in the archive. (Subsequent chapters are posted each Friday and can be accessed via the archive).
Read, enjoy, tell your friends.
Just a bit of guidance, since you'll have read the previous chapter a week ago. The book is written from the viewpoints of the two main protagonists and each chapter is narrated in either Leigh or Faith's voice, in the first person. The viewpoints alternate, but sometimes one character will tell the tale over a couple of consecutive chapters.
Faith’s unexpected conversational skills and sense of humour were not the only surprises she sprung, once she recovered from her faint. She picked up my dislike of Biblical quotations and allusions straight away and stopped using them, which was just as well, considering my views.
I found a well-organized, able and clever young woman, with a contradictory set of ideas and values and the most eclectic range of knowledge I’d ever come across. I was intrigued. I had nothing to lose by giving her a trial. But it was only fair to let her meet Merv before either of us made a decision.
She accompanied me from the office, through the small waiting area, where occasional reps and clients sat in ancient, leather, easy chairs and gazed at life-sized monochromes of women on the walls. Faith avoided the flesh but admired the smaller landscapes and sighed with audible relief when I led her into the studio.
The snow had stopped and early afternoon sun was sending shafts of light through the high windows to fall in dazzling rhomboids at the base of the far wall. Specks of dust, floating in the silent beams, leant the large space a cathedral quality.
She seemed entranced; though whether by the scale of the room, the atmosphere or the assorted equipment, I could only guess. I let her stand and stare at a sight I knew well. ‘Impressive, isn’t it? I spend so much time in here, I forget how strange it must appear.’
‘It’s wonderful; amazing.’ Her enthusiasm was genuine.
‘Used to be two storeys; hay barn above, animal quarters below. They built these longhouses to provide living space for the farmer’s family and animals all in one building. It was built in the sixteen seventies. Uncle Fred and I completed most of the work a year or so before he died. The old coach house at the end is now a garage on the ground floor with the darkroom above. That’s where I’m taking you.’
‘Is this where you work, Leigh?’
‘A lot of the time. The small items I do in here but the larger stuff’s done on site. I do mostly catalogue work in here; light industrial, tools and fastenings, things like that. Some portraiture and a bit of formal work with models. But I prefer to work in situ with the girls when I can.’
The tone of her voice spoke volumes. I’d seen embarrassment and censure cloud her features as she looked at the work on display in the office and waiting room. Strangely, the print of the Velazquez Rokeby Venus, behind my desk, didn’t appear to unsettle her as much as my photographs. Perhaps because it wasn’t frontal, or because it was a painting, she found it less threatening.
‘If I decide to take you on, Faith, you’ll be spending some of your time around models, often topless, sometimes nude. How do you feel about that?’
She fixed me with a determined stare. ‘As long as I don’t have to take off my clothes, I’ll manage.’
I looked at her ragbag collection of hand-me-downs: brown tweed skirt to the ankles, long-sleeved, heavy cotton blouse in dingy white with appliquéd lace, hand-knitted brown cardigan with darned elbows and fraying cuffs. And, judging by the lines, she was wearing a heavy bra at least two sizes too big. I wondered what her knickers would be like: straight from the school gym? I hadn’t seen a young woman so badly dressed. Hardly the glamourpuss I was seeking. Maybe exposure to me and the girls would educate her tastes and show her the possibilities. She had potential as far as face and figure were concerned. A bit of weight, makeup, hair set free from its constricting band, limbs allowed to feel the air, and she could be a different and very attractive woman.
‘You can be as covered or uncovered as you like, though I do sometimes take off my clothes when I’m working with a model.’
‘All of them?’
‘Why?’ Her question was condemnatory.
‘Sex, a lot of the time. But a naked girl feels vulnerable in lots of ways. Not least, there’s the temperature. It’s easy, when you’re sweating under the lights in jeans and polo neck, to forget how cool it can be in your skin. I try to develop empathy with my models and being naked helps that.’
‘Don’t they mind?’
‘I wouldn’t do it if they did. In fact, some of them demand it. I never expect or ask anyone to do anything against their will, Faith. That’s one reason I’m making the situation clear to you now, so you know what you’re getting into. I’m not about to change my way of working just to avoid embarrassing you. Nudity is pleasure and delight for me. You find it disturbing or threatening and I sort of understand that; it’s depressingly common, but it’s your problem, not mine. If you find it unacceptable, we might as well close this interview right now.’
She crossed the space between us until she was looking up into my face with a challenging expression I found disconcerting. ‘You said yourself I’m not the idiot people think, Leighton Longshaw. But you don’t know that I’m also professional. I hate the idea of public nakedness. Your unclothed body might embarrass or offend me; I don’t know: I’ve never seen a naked man. Your behaviour is sinful and it’ll send you to Hell for eternity. But, if you employ me to work with naked women, or men, I’ll carry out my duties as required. My feelings and beliefs are my own and have nothing to do with you or the job.’
‘Are you always so truthful?’
‘I try to be. Life would be so much better if everybody was honest all the time, don’t you think?’
‘It’d be intolerable. But what matters is whether you can work in the conditions I’ve described.’
‘I thought I just said I can.’
I looked down into her face and saw truth shining in her eyes; her wide-set, large and very dark, brown eyes that stared at me so directly. Looking into those eyes, I saw potential for passion. I also saw her vulnerability and unique quality and I wanted to know her better; to know her well.
I needed to lighten the mood. ‘Do your eyes bother you?’
She frowned. ‘No. Why?’
‘They bother me.’ I laughed shortly, as much at my mistake in using an inappropriate line, as at her incomprehension. ‘Come on; let’s see what you make of Merv the Perv.’
‘He’s a neighbour, of sorts. I’d heard he worked for you. I hoped it wasn’t true.’
‘What do you know of him?’
‘Like most in the village, he’s called me names. But, really, only what I’ve heard about him from others.’
‘And we both know how false that can be. Maybe he’ll surprise me.’
‘Prepare to be shocked.’ I led the way to the end of the studio and the foot of the vertical ladder. ‘Not pleasantly.’
I shinned up, aware she might worry I was looking up her skirt, an impossible feat, if I followed her. On the metal landing, I waited for her before opening the door into the suite of small rooms that served as printing, storage and finishing area.
I studied her as she watched the glazing drum turn slowly, its mirrored chromium cylinder reflecting the fluorescent tubes and the blue-white daylight streaming through the windows.
‘It’s very warm and there’s an odd smell. Would I work up here?’
‘Eventually; I’d want you to do most of the print finishing… drying, glazing, trimming and mounting. It’s all done in here. Merv’s kingdom is the darkroom.’ I indicated the blank white door with its bulbs mounted above. ‘When the red light’s on, you can’t go in. It means Merv’s loading film into tanks for processing. Stray light would fog the film and ruin it.’ I explained the light-trap and gave quick descriptions of the other equipment in the room until the red light went out and a green bulb shone. ‘That means Merv’s put the darkroom lights on; we can go in now.’
‘Why not just one bulb?’
I was pleased she was analysing; it showed promise. ‘The bulb might’ve blown. The green light’s insurance.’
I went through the light trap, closing the door behind me before I could open the one into the darkroom. Merv was working by white light, pouring developer from a glass measuring cylinder into a tall, stainless steel, processing tank on the wet bench. ‘You’ve got a visitor.’
Faith entered, blinked with surprise at the brightness of the white room and turned quickly away from the wall facing her. Dozens of women, cut from the pages of porno magazines, displayed obscenely behind Merv. It was his realm and I chose not to impose my own standards on the way he decorated it, much as I disliked his preferences.
‘Faith Heacham; Mervyn Tupper.’
Faith, good as her promise to give him a chance, extended her hand. He leered unpleasantly, stripping her with his eyes as he briefly touched hers. I tapped his arm and caught his eye with a warning that stopped him moving too far into vulgarity.
‘How do you do?’
‘Fu… great, given the chance. You?’
‘Fine, thank you.’
‘Talks, then? Never thought it could.’
Faith failed to recognize this as a reference to her and, unfamiliar with small talk, remained silent.
‘I’m considering offering Faith the position of Girl Friday, Merv. Do you think you could work with her?’
‘Any position it takes, I’ll go along with.’
‘And you, Faith, how do you feel about working with Merv?’
‘I don’t understand everything he says, but he seems less… coarse than I’d heard. I’m willing to try, as long as I don’t have to work under those… those pictures.’
‘Good. Good. Right, we’d best leave him to it; don’t want him ruining the films by forgetting to agitate the developer, do we?’
Merv immediately lifted the metal tank and upended it five times in quick succession before replacing it on the bench. I indicated that Faith should leave the room again. She was barely out of the door before I turned to Merv. ‘Well done, Merv. Think you can manage to remain as polite if she comes to work here?’
‘Once it gets its tight little bum under the desk I’ll ‘ave to tease it. It’s too thin. Keeps its curlies short and tidy though. You can see right through ‘em to its…’
‘Thank you for that, Merv. That order ready to go?’
‘Final rinse. ‘Ave ‘em on the dryer in a mo.’
‘Right. I’ll be up for them in half an hour.’
‘It’ll never let you, Leigh. Dunno why you’re botherin’.’
I found Faith blushing on the other side of the light trap. ‘He says some very strange things. Was he talking about me?’
‘All talk is Merv. Doesn’t mean anything by it, you know.’
‘He can’t possibly know what I look like.’
‘Guessing. Wishful thinking. Just guessing, that’s all. Shall we go back?’
I paced the office and Faith studied the local landscapes of the Dales I’d displayed on the walls in the hope that tourists might drop in to buy them.
‘They’re beautiful. I didn’t know you could do that with photography. It’s beautiful countryside. I recognise this one, but where were the others taken?’
I thought she was pulling my leg until I saw the genuine question on her face. They were all local, none more than a dozen miles from Longhouse.
Ma brought fresh coffee in before I had the opportunity to answer properly. Old Hodge poked his face around the door and saw Faith. He smiled at her and lifted his cap in greeting. She gave him a little nod of acknowledgement and smiled back. Everybody liked Old Hodge.
After Ma had placed the tray, she tested the white socks by the fire and found them dry at last. ‘You never took the lass traipsing into that cold studio with nowt on her feet, Leigh?’
I hadn’t noticed, and she’d said nothing. I found myself apologising for my thoughtlessness.
‘I had nothing to put on my feet and you wanted me to see the rest of the work place. I wanted to see it. I’m used to cold feet.’
‘See, Ma, she’s perfect. No complaints, no fuss. Just what I need.’
‘Taking her on, then?’
Faith’s eyes followed me as I moved to my desk and sat down in the leather chair, still trying to make up my mind.
The door from the hall opened and Abby stepped in, pink along one side from the hearthrug. I saw Faith close down her emerging look of surprised disapproval and turn it into polite indifference.
Abby glanced round the room. ‘Sorry. Thought you’d be done by now. Just wanted my wrap.’
It lay on the floor near my desk, where Ma had kicked it after Abby had discarded it for our earlier session. Her briefs lay at my feet, out of sight. Faith picked up the wrap, shook out the dust and creases and took it to the fire to warm for a few moments.
No one spoke.
She turned and held the gown, helping Abby into it. ‘Does the hair around your genitalia grow that short naturally or do you trim it?’ She sat down with no sign of a blush and gave me a look that spoke volumes.
Abby flicked her long tresses back over her shoulders and laughed a little uncertainly. ‘I …er wax and trim it, sweetie … But what an odd question to ask in mixed company.’
‘I’m sorry. I didn’t know I shouldn’t…’ And this time she blushed.
‘It’s okay, sweetie. No one’s died.’ She perched on the edge of my desk and looked at Faith speculatively before twisting to face me. ‘Prettier than I expected but a bit on the thin side for you, I’d have thought. Taking her on?’
I’d almost made up my mind before Abby had come in. Faith’s demonstration of the professional attitude she’d described in the studio was enough to clinch it, in spite of that strangely personal question. ‘If she wants the job. What do you say, Faith?’
Her whole body relaxed and relief took the frown from her face. ‘Thank you. Thank you, very much, Leigh. I can start now, if you like.’
‘Now? I thought you had a job at the Dairy? You’ll have to give notice, surely?’
‘They’ll not want me to work notice after what I did this morning. No, I can start straight away, if that’s all right for you?’
She had no idea of the significance of her throw away admission. Abby and Ma exchanged curious glances.
‘What, exactly, did you do this morning, Faith?’ My tone alerted her to the seriousness of her comment. She was suddenly confused and unable to collect her thoughts. I wondered if I’d misjudged her or even been misled. ‘Out with it. Let’s have some of this famous honesty.’
Still she was reluctant to speak and I began to grow impatient. Ma stepped in to the rescue. ‘We’re not sitting in judgement, love. Just curious.’
She glanced at each of us in turn, fear and uncertainty distorting her pretty face. When she brought her eyes back to mine, I nodded and tried to take the suspicion from my features.
‘Tell us in your own words.’
She literally took a deep breath, as if about to plunge into cold water. ‘I told you Father got me the job at the Dairy?’
‘Working for one of his cronies… friends, yes.’
‘I’d worked there a few weeks when Mr Furnswurth asked me to move out of the general office and be his personal secretary. He’s a… a horrible man. The other women talked about his wandering hands and the way his eyes undress you. He looked at me like Mervyn did.’
‘Some men routinely undress women with their eyes. I find their attitude appalling. I know Furnswurth and he’s just the type. All outward respectability but seething with sexual repression.’
She considered that for a moment. ‘His office has a wall of shelves from floor to ceiling and steps so you can reach the top. Some of the women told me he sits at his desk and looks up their skirts when they get files from the top or bottom shelves. He couldn’t do that with me, of course. My skirt’s a decent length.’
She must have guessed my intention to try to change that because she stared at me sternly. ‘And always will be, in case you’re thinking any different.’
Her insight was vaguely unnerving after such brief acquaintance.
‘How you dress is up to you, Faith. Most men these days prefer the mini or micro, but the maxi’s fine, especially in a flowing fabric. Can’t say I’m a lover of your old lady’s tweeds but… up to you. You were telling us about Furnswurth…’
She let my criticism go but she’d have something to say should I raise the subject again. ‘He asked for one of the files on the top shelf. I was looking for it when he came and stood below me, pretending to help me look. Before I knew what was happening, he put his hand up my skirt.’
‘The man needs seeing to.’
She gave me the briefest of troubled smiles, for my support, I suppose. ‘I couldn’t believe it. He goes to Father’s chapel. I was too shocked to move at first but then he slid his hand even further up and actually touched my genitalia. I came to my senses then. I kicked his arm and bent down and slapped him across his nasty face as hard as I could. I almost fell off the steps.’ She stopped, awaiting judgement.
‘Dirty old sod. I’d have kicked him in the goolies.’ Abby slipped off the desk and put a comforting arm around her shoulders.
‘Do you think they’ll not have you back ‘cause you slapped his face, love? Is that it?’
She frowned at Ma. ‘They won’t have me back because I walked out, there and then, of course, Mrs Hodges.’
‘Did you hurt Furnswurth?’
‘I don’t know. I expect so. I know it’s very wicked of me, Leigh, but I hope so. Why? Does it matter?’
‘No. Just satisfying if you blacked his eye. I understand your comment now, Faith. I think you were right to do what you did. Showed courage and presence of mind. And I’d be happy for you to start work for me in the morning.’
Her relief was almost tangible. ‘I can start right now, if you like.’
‘Go home and have a short rest. There’s only a couple of hours of the working day left anyway. But there is just one thing.’
‘What time should I be here in the morning?’
‘Up to you; eight thirty to five or nine to five thirty in the week, up to lunch time on Saturdays. I don’t mind. But I want to know something, Faith. I’m curious to know why, having reacted so violently to Furnswurth’s sexual advances, you came straight here? You must’ve believed I was the most sexually dangerous man in the area.’
‘I was out of a job. I have to work. Father is… He wouldn’t understand me leaving like that. In fact, he won’t believe me.’ She shrugged as if resigned. ‘We really need the money because he can’t work, so I couldn’t go home without another job. Yours was the only one with the skills I have. I saw your postcard in Mrs Greenhough’s window. In the rack outside, a newspaper said that unemployment’s gone past a million and is still rising. Where else would I go?’
I grinned at Abby and Ma. ‘Honest, but she’ll gain no points for diplomacy.’
‘Bit of honesty from a pretty lass’ll do you no harm. Most of ‘em are so eager to have you in their knickers they’ll say owt to please you.’ Ma gave Abby a look full of meaning and received a protruding tongue in response. ‘You’re a real surprise to me, Faith, but you’re a welcome addition to Longhouse, and I for one hope you’ll not change your ways too much by working for Leigh.’
She managed a smile for Ma, and then turned to me with apprehension. ‘I must be completely honest, Leigh. I believe it’s as bad to miss out facts, as it is to make them up when it comes to truth. At the Dairy, they either think you’re a wicked libertine or else the most eligible and delectable bachelor in the district, whatever all that means. No one talks about you as if you’re a danger to women, though; just the opposite, in fact. They say you’re licentious and lewd; more words I don’t fully understand, except I know they’re bad. So I didn’t think I’d be in any actual danger unless I let you think I was willing to take off my clothes. Which, by the way, I most certainly am not! Also, I intend to help you see the error of your ways and lead you down the path of righteousness so that we can save your soul.’
I shook my head at her candour. Faith was showing all the signs of being a serious challenge and I relished the coming contest. But she hadn’t finished.
‘I also came here because Father’ll be livid when he learns I’m working for you. But he won’t stop me; we need the money. He calls you ‘Satan’s local henchman’ and believes no woman’s safe with you. I can tell him he’s mistaken about that, and for…’
‘You seem very sure.’
‘Oh, if you’d wanted to do something to me, you had the perfect opportunity when I was lying at your feet. As far as I can tell, you didn’t even try to look up my skirt. And you went up the ladder before me because you knew I’d feel more comfortable that way. In fact, you’ve behaved in a way that even Father would find hard to criticize. I believe you’re a gentleman, even if you do fornicate and take pleasure in the flesh, and I shall tell Father what I’ve learned when I get home’
‘You’ll ruin my reputation as the local despoiler of virgins.’
‘I don’t fully understand what that means, but I’m hoping you’ll ruin mine as the village idiot, Leigh.’
The studio door let Merv into the office. ‘Tight little twat gone…? Oh. Yeah, right. ‘Ere’s that order, Leigh. I’m done now. I’ll be off…’ He knew he’d overstepped the mark.
I wanted the girls, especially Faith, to know how strongly I objected to his attitude. ‘Merv. I’ll say this now, in front of Ma, Abby and Faith. I’ll give you a choice: either you start to treat the women in this household like human beings or you can leave for good. Understood?’
Merv looked at the floor.
He glanced up at me and nodded.
Faith jumped at my volume.
‘Yeah. Right, yeah, Leigh. Right.’
‘Good. Now, apologize to Faith and then bugger off home. And find another word to use when talking about women to me or anyone else in this household. You might start by using their names. Go.’
Merv turned to Faith, his face purple with a mix of anger and embarrassment. ‘Yeah. Right. Sorry, then.’ I knew we’d get no more from him and I gestured him to leave. He went without another word but he glared at Faith as he closed the door.
‘God, but he’s foul that one.’ Ma had never liked him.
‘Foul mouth, foul mind.’ Abby felt the same way.
‘It’s not just the words; it’s the attitude that lies behind them.’
‘If he upsets you, Leigh, why do you employ him?’
Her directness continued to surprise and amuse me. ‘There’s not much choice around here when it comes to skills and talent, Faith. If you turn out to be as good a Girl Friday as Merv is a printer, I’ll count myself extremely lucky.’
She looked around the room, skimming quickly past the photographs of women’s bodies, but taking in the rest of the details. ‘You’re expecting me to do most of the print finishing in that room next to the darkroom. I didn’t see a phone in there. I won’t be able to answer calls unless you have one put in.’
‘Hasn’t even started and already she’s costing me money. Hop it, wench, before I change my mind!’
She slipped her socks and shoes on quickly and was inside her shabby winter coat before I relented.
‘You’re right, of course. You can have your extension, but only when I’m satisfied you’re right for the job.’
A huge smile of relief brightened her clouded countenance.
Ma turned to Faith and nodded. ‘You’ll do.’
I foresaw those two forming an alliance against me in all sorts of subtle ways and I relished it. ‘Right. I’m off down to Garsington. Coming, Abby?’
She looked out of the window and then stretched, revealing tempting skin. ‘I’ll wait for you near the fire. You’ll need warming up when you come back.’
My look softened her eyes and parted her lips. I turned to Faith. ‘Can I take you home?’
‘Garsington? That’s a long way, isn’t it?’
I laughed. ‘Less than fifteen miles.’
‘Garsington.’ She spoke as if it were another world. ‘No, thank you, Leigh. I believe it’s in the wrong direction.’
‘Suit yourself. See you in the morning then.’
‘Eight thirty. And thank you for giving me a chance, Leigh. I’ll prove my worth.’
I wondered if she would or whether I’d saddled myself with problems simply from a desire to try to mould this strange little wench into a real woman. Time, no doubt, would tell.
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