There was no rush in the bakery today, which was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing for it meant that she didn't have to rush around, making sure that nothing was burning and that everybody was satisfied. A curse, however, for that it meant that there was a storm brewing in Birmingham. The Bible quoted that on the seventh day, God rested, but there was no rest in Birmingham and when there was, it meant that the Devil was at work.
Biting her lip, Cordelia 'Cora' Johnson pulled her floured and stained apron off her body and hung on the small nail that rested two feet away from the oven, the beige contrasting greatly against the dark blue walls. Cora shrugged on her long, ebony peacock before she stepped out into the harsh wind that bit at her face and stung her eyes. The small rustic key felt oddly heavy in her hand as she locked the bakery door, turning the doorknob twice to ensure that it had locked.
She knew the action was foolish, for no one with a sane mind would try and break into her shop, but it was an action that made her feel secure.
The streets of Birmingham were often noisy with workers and young children who rushed through the crowds in games of tag and football, but today, the streets didn't hold the same rush as usual. People were able to walk without bumping into one another and the children stayed close together in one area, none daring to drift too far.
With a short huff, Cora pushed the large, mahogany doors of the Garrison open before stepping onto the wooden floors. Her heels clicked against the thin planks, the sound somehow rising above the loud shouts of men as if it were an overtone. Cora smiled sweetly as she slid onto one of the seats at the bar, her purse clinking against the polished surface.
"Ello, Harry," Cora greeted as she clasped her hands together and rested them on the table, "Any news floating around here?"
"There's nothing that you don't already hear in that bakery of yours." Harry said, handing her a cool glass of water, the condensation on the outside making it slick to the touch, "I don't know why you insist on coming here every day to ask the same question only to get the same answer."
Cora shrugged lightly before she picked up the glass and took a sip, the chill easing her dry throat, "It's good for business."
And good for business it was.
The more people who saw her around town—alone—the more they felt as though their words were safe around her. She honestly found some of the people a bit daft after hearing the stories they were throwing around, but the warm smile never left her face.
"Besides," Cora said, placing the glass to her left, "You get more interaction with the customers than I'll ever have." Glancing around at the packed bar, she turned her attention back to Harry with a raised, question brow, "When are you going to get another bartender? I know a few lads who would be interested if you are?"
Harry scoffed, giving Cora an exasperated stare as he dried an empty shot glass. Gently, he placed the glass on the second row of a large shelf before tossing the damp dishtowel over his shoulder and leaning on the table.
"You know I don't need the help, Cora. I like working by myself just fine." Harry stated, raising his eyebrow to challenge Cora's.
Relenting, Cora let out a sigh and leaned back in her chair, "I know, but I worry about you, Harry."
Which was true. Ever since the war had ended, the number of soldiers that would come to the cavern to drink their nightmares away was horrifying in itself. But, instead of helping, sometimes the liquor would cause a relapse and they were back out on the frontline or digging tunnels. Their eyes would glaze over as their minds got lost in the past, shouts leaving their lips as they punched at anyone near them.
One man couldn't take down a soldier alone.
"I know you do, and I thank you for that." Harry said, giving Cora a soft look before his eyes flickered to the clock behind her, "It's getting late. A lady such as yourself shouldn't be roaming the streets alone at night; it ain't safe."
Cora's mouth set, ready to argue, but she bit her tongue once she saw the look that Harry was giving her. He was the closest thing she had to a father and she respected him like one. Glancing outside, Cora conceded and let out a sigh before taking one last sip of water.
"I'll see you tomorrow," Cora said, grabbing her purse and dropping a few coins on the counter. Even though she knew that he would've said it was on the house, a business was a business no matter who owned it.
Tightening her grasp on her purse, Cora stalked out of the bar, her head held high as her heels played a sonnet against the men's chatter. She could feel the chilling stare on her as she exited the bar, his gaze cutting her like the icy wind that greeted her as she pushed the door open. Though the stare was intense, Cora felt no fear.
Only one man had the right to set eyes on her, and only one man would.
Chapter 2: Chapter One
Lucy Boynton as Cordelia Johnson
Over the course of the past year, Cora had grown accustomed to seeing a stark, white envelope underneath the bakery door when she walked downstairs.
At first, she wondered if someone placed it under there as a trick or they had mistaken her shop for somewhere else—in the dimly lit streets, the townhouses of Small Heath seemed to blend together into one. But after picking it up and seeing her name scrawled in messy handwriting—barely legible at first glance—a small smile had crossed her face.
So, it was no surprise to Cora when she was, once again, greeted with an envelope as she walked towards the door to open it. Bending down, a smile flickered across her face and she stood up before making her way behind the counter. Her thin finger eagerly ripped the paper—she was careful not to accidentally cut herself, though—and her eyes were quick to devour the words that were scribbled on a small slice of paper.
Cora let out a scoff of a laugh and rolled her eyes, her fingers folding up the slip of paper and shoving it in the pocket of her black skirt. She knew that if he saw her reaction it would've probably made him laugh harder than the joke itself. Cora stalked over towards the coat rack behind the door and grabbed her coat, slipping it on but not buttoning it. While the weather was considerably warmer than the day before, Cora loathed the cold.
She had forgotten to ask Harry for two bottles of dark rum, a key ingredient in the rum cakes she was asked to make for Mrs. Williams—who was a new mother—husband's birthday. After locking the bakery door and twisting the knob twice, Cora set off on her sort track to the Garrison. Young children hurried past her and shouted a quick hello while the men tipped their hats when she walked by and women smiled or said hello.
Pushing open the Garrison door, Cora stumbled back as her small frame crashed into a rather large one. Her back bumped against the closing door as she regained her foot and muttered a quick apology to the person she had run into to. When the person didn't respond, Cora looked up, worried that something was wrong or that she had—somehow—injured the person.
"Danny?" Cora breathed, her brows furrowing in confusion as a close friend of Thomas's shoved the door open and rushed out of the Garrison. Looking up in hopes of understanding what had just happened, though she didn't doubt Danny had another one of his episodes, she felt her heart stutter as her eyes met ice blue ones.
The meeting was quick, more a flicker than a glance, before Tommy turned his back and headed towards the bar's counter. Cora followed slowly as she observed who was in the room and what might happen next. Small Heath, Birmingham was exactly what it's said—it was small. Therefore, it was easy to know everyone and everything, and it was easy to know who the instigators were and who the peacekeepers were. Cora stopped at the counter but kept her body a foot away from Tommy's. By the glance he gave her, she knew that it was going to be a while before she would be able to bake that cake.
"Mr. Shelby, you have to do something about him," Harry said as he lifted a table and placed it in its upright position before setting the chairs back around it. Cora waited for him to walk back behind the counter before muttering her order to him.
"Damn right, Harry." Freddie Thorne agreed, cockily walking behind Tommy, and Cora watched him closely. Freddie Thorne was a well know instigator in Small Heath and Cora had grown up with him and the Shelby's. She knew that Freddie would do anything in his power to get under Tommy's skin, and given the fact that Freddie had never feared Tommy—not in childhood and not now—she didn't know how far he'd go to get Tommy to give him the reaction he craved.
"You pay the Peaky Blinders a lot of money for protection," Tommy swung his head back as he finished his shot, his face passive as Freddie pressed on, "You're the law around here now, Tommy, aren't you? Maybe you should put a bullet in Danny Whizz-Bang's head like they do with mad horses."
Cora locked eyes Tommy, their faces blank. Cora had to hand it to Freddie. He certainly knew what he was doing and exactly what topics to touch on. It was no secret that Tommy valued horses and Cora had heard that when his mother was still alive and when he was younger, she would take them horseback riding and taught them how to horses. She wondered if it was Gypsy blood that made him so affectionate towards horses.
"Maybe you'll have to put a bullet in my head someday, too," Freddie muttered, just loud enough for Tommy and Cora to hear, as he brushed past them.
Cora watched as Tommy's eyes darkened at the words and she shook her head ever so slightly—a movement only Tommy saw—as she grabbed the two bottles of rum from the counter. She walked towards before stopping and waiting for Tommy to pull his cap on and join her.
"Bring the bill to the Peaky Blinders. We'll take care of it," Tommy called as walked towards the door and pulled it open, allowing Cora to slip out and onto the windy streets.
Cora swore aloud as the wind ruffled her hair and pulled strands of hair out of the bun she had placed her hair in. Feeling Tommy's brooding presence beside her, she held out one of the rum bottles for him to grab, which he didn't hesitate to grab.
"Meeting?" Cora questioned, tucking a long strand of her sun-kissed hair behind her ear but not looking at Tommy. Tommy didn't respond; instead, he picked up his pace and she followed to the dark grey building, slipping through the door when Tommy opened it.
"Hello, Finn" Cora greeted the young boy as she walked through the kitchen and placed the bottle of rum on the table.
"Ello, Cora." Finn smiled at the young woman who he had known all his life, "Did you bring any cookies?"
Cora frowned before ruffling his hair, "No, not today. But maybe if you stop by later, I can probably slip you something."
Giving Finn one last smile, Cora pulled open the nary blue doors that were hidden behind two thick, dark green curtains. She ignored the sharp glare Arthur shot her, obviously displeased with her lateness, and slipped past him so that she was sat towards the end of the large table that was placed in the center of the room, Tommy leaning against the cabinet near her.
"Right," Arthur began, his voice gruff and low as he glared at the occupants of the room, "I've called this family meeting because I've got some very important news. Scudboat and Lovelock got back from Belfast last night. They were buying a stallion to cover their mares. They were in a pub on the Shankhill Road yesterday, and in that pub, was a copper handing out these."
Cora reached forward to take a flyer from Scudboat, thanking him quietly as her eyes trailed over the tea-stained paper. Cora held up the paper for Tommy to take and retracted her hand the moment she felt him grab it, her eyes focusing on the different reactions the members were having.
"If you're over five feet and can fight, come to Birmingham." John read before looking up at Arthur.
"They're recruiting Protestant Irishmen to come over here as Specials," Arthur said, crossing his arms—something Cora noticed he did to feel as though he held more power than he actually did—and she furrowed her brows in confusion at the word.
"To do what?" Ada's soft voice floated, voicing the question that Cora was about to ask.
"To clean up the city, Ada." Tommy explained, his words gaining him the attention of the room, "He's a chief inspector. The last four years, he's been clearing the IRA out of Belfast."
"How do you know so bloody much?" Arthur glowered, his hand clenching and Cora felt the aura in the room take a violent turn.
Tommy and Arthur had been having a power struggle ever since they arrived home from war. While all the brothers had their own demons, they each handled them in different ways. John gained the habit of drinking, Tommy shut himself up and built walls around him, and Arthur drank and was known for violent and suicide attempts.
In the eye of the business, Tommy was the only one who was the most prepared to take over. He didn't have to worry about children like John did, nor did anyone have to fear an outburst from him, like Arthur.
Arthur was aware of this but refused to give up his spot. It didn't bother Tommy because he knew that their workers were more than willing to listen to him.
"Cause I asked the coppers on our payroll," Tommy stated, his face remaining passive—but Cora could see a shadow of a smirk on his lips—while his brother's turned red.
"And why didn't you tell me?" Arthur growled and Tommy shifted lazily on his feet.
"I'm telling you."
Cora watched uneasily as an unsettling silence fell over the room. Her eyes flickered from Tommy to Arthur and she watched as Arthur took a large swig from his flask, his eyes never leaving Tommy's.
"So why are they sending him to Birmingham?" Pol cut in, looking up from the paper and staring at Tommy, waiting for an answer.
"There's been all these bloody strikes at the BSA, and the Austin works lately." Tommy said, "Now the papers are talking about sedition." Cora could almost see him rolling his eyes at the word, "And revolution. I reckon it's the communists he's after."
It was Ada's expression that caused Cora to pause for a moment. Her eyes widening for a fraction of a second as she bit her lip, and Cora could see her mind drifting from the meeting. If what Cora was thinking was true, then Ada had done an impressive job keeping it in the dark.
"So this copper's gonna leave us alone, right?" Pol pressed, and Cora's attention turned back to the older woman.
"There are Irishmen in Green Lanes who left Belfast to get away from him. They say Catholic men who crossed him used to disappear in the night." Tommy informed and Pol let out a scoff, turning her head back towards the paper.
"Yeah, but we ain't IRA." John said, his voice impatient and frustrated, "We bloody fought for the king. Anyway, we're Peaky Blinders. We're not scared of coppers
"He's right," Arthur grumbled.
"If they come for us, We'll cut them a smile each." John finished and Cora bit her lip as her mind reeled with all the new information. Something just wasn't making sense to her, but she wasn't sure what it was… it was like an annoying itch she couldn't reach to scratch.
"So, Arthur, is that it?" Tommy asked, his tone bored and relaxed despite the new threat in Small Heath.
"What do you think, Aunt Pol?" Arthur asked as he turned to look at his Aunt.
"This family does everything open. You have nothing more to say to this meeting, Thomas?" Auntie Pol said, and Cora watched as Arthur's eyes flashed with fury. His aunt had blatantly chosen Tommy as a high position.
"No. Nothing that's women's business."
Cora's eyes widened at the jab that was thrown and she clenched her fists. Tommy had gotten colder since the war in many ways. The most important one, however, was the fact that he now seemed to want to keep the women who ran the business while they were away, out of the business.
"This whole bloody enterprise was a women's business while you boys were away at war. We even started a whole new business," Auntie Pol stated calmly, but the chilling smirk on her face showing her anger towards Tommy's words, "What's changed."
"We came back."
"Thank you, sir." Cora gave a tight smile to the man seated in front of her as she placed the muffin on the table. Ignoring his swipe for her ass the moment she turned around, Cora was quick to deposit the money in the box on the counter before locking it and shoving it in the drawer underneath.
Her mind was drifting back to the meeting that occurred yesterday and even though the bells sounded, alerting her that someone had entered, she didn't turn to see who. It was only when the cheerful chatter of the bakery died down she looked up, blowing a strand of hair that had fallen out of her bun out of her face.
Tommy Shelby stood in front of the door, his cold eyes surveying those who were in the shop. Cora raised an eyebrow at the man in front of her before quickly slipping a glance at the man who had made a grab for her, inwardly rejoicing at how pale his face had gone. If Tommy had seen her glance, he made no comment.
"Everybody, out." They were gone in an instant.
Cora smiled as the tall male approached her, resting her elbow on the counter before resting her head in her hand. While her smile was polite, her eyes were mischievous as she thought of the many reasons why Tommy was in her shop.
"What brings you 'ere, Tommy? I never imagined you'd set foot in my shop?" She teased. Tommy ignored her as he looked around the small bakery, taking in the details of the small shop.
"You're closing early," Tommy stated, and a look of concern took over her features as she quickly slipped off her apron and grabbed her coat. Following him outside, she locked the door and twisted the handle twice before the two set off down the street.
"What happened now?" Cora asked as they made their way to Pol's house, her eyes catching the large bottle of whiskey in Tommy's hand and taking note of Tommy's brisk pace.
"Arthur got himself in trouble with some coppers," Tommy said, opening the door for Cora and following her inside. Cora silently entered the house, her footsteps soft and quiet in contrast to Tommy's loud, stomping ones. Shoving the kitchen door open, Tommy flung off his had, "Let me see him."
Cora would've winced at the state of Arthur's face, but it wasn't as though she hadn't seen this before. His face was covered in dried blood, the bleeding coming from two large cuts—one on his cheek and the other on his forehead. Her eyes trailed over his form as she examined the rest of him, taking note of the two fingers that Pol was taking care of. Both of them stuck out at odd angles and she knew that they were always going to be crooked.
When Tommy was drafted, she took it upon herself to go to the nursing classes that were held at the church. It was a constant debate in her mind if she wanted to join the army as a nurse or to help the family's business. In the end, taking care of the family business won. Her mother had grown sick as the war raged on and Cora didn't want to leave her alone to die.
"Move, Tommy," Cora ordered, bumping him with her hip as she snatched the lukewarm cloth from his hand and poured whiskey on it. A sharp hiss left Arthur's lips as she pressed the cloth on his wound, making sure to disinfect it.
Cora repeated the process with the wound on his forehead before dipping the cloth in the warm water next to her. Gently, she began to clean off his face to see if he had any smaller cuts that needed tending to.
"He said that Mr. Churchill sent him to Birmingham." Arthur began, trying to tilt his head to look at Tommy and hissing when Cora grabbed his chin to set it straight, "National interest, he said. Something about a robbery."
Cora's hand froze for a moment as she turned to look at Tommy. Everybody in the room was a way of the small mishap that had occurred, the guns were hidden by Uncle Charlie until Tommy could figure something out. Blinking, Cora refocused and grabbed the needle, pouring whiskey over it before lacing it with thread.
"This is going to hurt," Cora murmured in Arthur's ear before she pinched the split skin on his forehead and slid the needle through it, a low grunt coming from Arthur.
"He said he wants to help us to help him," Arthur bit out, his teeth clenching as Cora wove the needle in and out.
"We don't help copper," John stated with a raised brow, but Arthur continued as if he hadn't head him.
"He knew all about our war records. He said we're patriots, like him. He wants us to be his eyes and ears."
Cora tied the thread before sipping it with a pair of scissors. Pulling the excess thread out of the loop, she poured whiskey over the needle once more and rethreaded it. Using the stained cloth, she brushed the fresh blood out of the way of the cut.
"This is going to hurt," Cora muttered, once again. It was in her nurses' training to alert the patient before proceeding with treatment in case they might feel pain.
"I fucking know that," Arthur hissed and Cora pulled away, an annoyed look on her face. Letting out a shaky sigh, Arthur shook his head, "Sorry."
Cora muttered under her breath before she leaned forward and pinched the split skin on his cheek together, jabbing the need through it.
"I said—" Arthur groaned as Cora stitched his cheek together and Pol set his thumb, "I said that'd we'd have a family meeting and take a vote."
Cora looked over her shoulder when Tommy didn't respond, his face turned away from the family. Sharing a look with Pol, Cora finished the stitch and began to wipe off the rest of the blood from Arthur's face.
"Why not? We have no truck with Fenians or communists." Tommy remained silent.
"What is wrong with you? What the fuck is wrong with him lately?" Arthur finally snapped, looking at Cora for an answer. Cora glanced up at Tommy before looking down at the bowl of tinted water next to her.
"I should dump this out," She muttered and grabbed the wooden bowl before hurrying out of the room.
"If I knew, I'd buy the cure form Compton's chemist." She heard Pol say, and Cora swallowed harshly.
Chapter 3: Chapter Two
Johnson, Cora hadn't heard someone call her by that name in a few years and her face flashed with confusion. Her back was turned to the counter, the heat from the open over causing a few beads of sweat to drip down her face. The voice that had called her name… hadn't been one of familiarity. Cora's bakery had opened five years ago and, at first, had been the talk of Small Heath. Not many men had been able to reside in Birmingham—having been drafted for the war—and her bakery was quick to become the number one place where anxious and frightened women came to eat their worries away.
The bakery had two uses: one, a bakery and two, an extra place for the family business. Pol, however, often reminded Cora to make sure the bakery was as realistic and homey as possible. The first year of the draft was hard on Pol, Ada, and Cora, and the bakery had become a safe haven for them as well. Cora knew what the women who came to her bakery were going through and she wanted to make her pastry shop as welcoming and warm as possible. So, she made sure that she was on a first name basis with everyone and that everyone greeted her, and addressed her with her first name.
As the war raged on and discharged, wounded, and disabled soldiers returned home, they too found solace in her shop. She knew each man by the slur of their words and each woman by the pitch of their voice.
So, when Cora heard this voice say her name, she had no recollection of a man with an Irish accent and a voice of higher tone ever stepping foot in her shop. Placing a sweet smile on her face, Cora closed the oven door and set the fresh batch of sugar cookies on the stove top before she turned to face the owner of the voice.
"Yes," Cora asked, resting her hand on the counter and staring up at the man in front of her, "How may I help you?"
He was an older man, his hair greying along with his mustache. Other than that, Cora wouldn't have paid much attention to him if she saw him on the streets or in her shop. The only reason her attention stayed divided on him and not the two policemen standing behind him was because of his eyes.
Two harsh, beady black eyes stared down at Cora, never straying too far from her face. They were far from cold, they stared at her as though she were the one who opened Pandora's box and Cora mentally snickered; with the Shelby's, she may have.
"I've heard that you know much about the Shelby brothers, that you're close with them." Cora almost rolled her eyes. The Inspector made it obvious that he had come here for one reason, and that it wasn't to buy any of her sweets.
Smiling softly, Cora shook her head before letting out a soft sigh—a sigh, Campbell noticed, that held a multitude of sadness, "I was close to them, sir. As in, I was close to them in the past. We had grown up together, our mother's knowing each other quite well, but when they sent to war… I thought them dead until they returned."
A blatant lie, but the Inspector hadn't noticed.
"War changes a man—I knew that before they left, but I didn't realize how much it could change someone. They're not the men I knew, Inspector, they barely visit and stay far away from me… as if they were staying far from their past."
She couldn't tell if the Inspector believed her or not. He kept his gaze cold and emotionless—the perfect poker face. The tension in Cora's body slowly started to ease and the smile on her face became more genuine and realistic, it was only when the Inspector's eyes hardened and narrowed did she know she messed up.
"War does change a man." Campbell agreed as a sick, sadistic smile twisted his features, "But I'm sure that isn't enough of a reason for you to not know your own husband."
Cora's eyes flashed and if Campbell hadn't known better, he would've thought she twitched. But he knew better and he knew the sweet little secrets the Peaky Blinders thought they kept unknown.
Thinking carefully, but keeping the smile on her face, Cora brushed back a strand of blonde hair. The ring resting on the delicate, silver chain that hung around her neck felt heavier than usual and she worried for a moment that it was visible through her white blouse. She knew it was foolish, though. For years, she had learned to cover and conceal the jewelry so that it wasn't visible to the eye.
"I'm not sure I know what you mean." Cora frowned, ignoring the smug feeling that blossomed in her chest as the Inspector's eyes grew darker at her words.
"Of course, you don't, Mrs. Shelby." Campbell hissed out the last name as though it were a deadly poison… so deadly, that even the name itself could kill you, "After all, your husband was gone for five years."
"Thomas and I never married." Cora interrupted, quick to stop the Inspector's tirade, her tone sharp as her eyes were cold, "We planned to be married before he left, but he was drafted earlier than we expected. He left, and we didn't speak for the five years he was gone. I was too scared to write to the man I loved, a man who was basically a walking corpse, and never get a response."
Cora took a shaky breath and closed her eyes, trying to calm her nerves.
"Thomas didn't have time to show his fancy for a girl while trying to save his life and the lives of his comrades. When he came back, the two of us didn't speak. What was there to speak of? Five years is a long time, Inspector. I didn't want to see the changed man he had become, and he didn't want to see a changed woman. Going back to the past is harder than moving on with the future."
The hesitation was clear in the Inspector's eyes no matter how hard he tried to hide it. Cora was a good actress, something that had stayed with her through her childhood, and now all she needed to do was end the conversation—end it while he was still doubting himself.
"I've only recently spoken to him at the Garrison." Hook, line, and sinker, "I left with him once because there had been an outburst from a formal soldier and he didn't want me to walk alone. You can ask the barman if you doubt me."
"The how come you were spotted leaving your bakery with him a day ago?" Campbell pressed, glaring into Cora's ethereal blue eyes. She refused to turn away from his gaze, knowing that men like him thrived from fear.
"Arthur got up pretty badly and I know how to stitch someone up—my mother was a nurse and I took some nursing classes during the war. He took me to their house, had me stitch Arthur up, and then kicked me out. Thomas refused t tell me what had happened. No one would. I know nothing of what's going on within that family, Inspector Campbell. You're asking the wrong person."
Though the Inspector's predatory gaze didn't leave her form, Cora refused to acknowledge it. She knew he was searching for a sign to signify that she was lying: a twitch, sharp intake, tapping fingers, anything. But, to his disappointment, Cora stood perfectly posed. Her shoulders remained relaxed, her eyes soft, and the warm smile never leaving her face. She remained posed for the few minutes that he watched her, merely blinking when he turned and stalked out towards the door.
Cora watched as he paused, one hand on the door.
"Turn the place upside down."
The two policemen that had been by his side their entire meeting wasted no time in grabbing tables and chairs and throwing them to the ground. Sighing, Cora closed her eyes as the thuds and crashes echoed in her ear before she turned around and went back to place the cookies in the display case.
Her hands were littered with small shards of glass and Cora pursed her lips at the irritated red glow that was emitting. Calmly picking the thin, small shards, she stood lazily next to Tommy, her back resting against the door of Polly's office. She had managed to clean the mess the coppers had made in record time, but her hands weren't spared from the quick work. Cuts, scrapes, and splinters littered her palms; each representing her lack of focus and hast. Cora was aware of Tommy's cold gaze on her but she pushed it to the back of her mind, her face scrunching up as she pulled out a particularly long shard of glass out of her hand. Quickly, she brought her hand to her mouth before any blood could drip to the floor, wincing at the sharp, metallic taste.
"The coppers told everyone Arthur had agreed to t it when he was arrested," Pol informed them, and Cora looked at up at her, "They said the Peaky Blinders had cleared out the fair to let them do it."
"I never said nothing to that copper about smashing up bloody houses." Arthur fumed, Cora looking at Tommy as a sigh left his lips before he took a drag of his cigarette.
"All right. Which pubs did they do?" Tommy asked as Cora pulled her hand away from her mouth, inspecting the small—but deep—cut that was visible for a few seconds before blood quickly pooled out and around it.
"The Guns, the Chain, the Marquis. All the ones that pay you to protect them." Pol listed before taking a long drag from her cigarette, blowing out the smoke as she spoke, "Only one they didn't touch was the Garrison. Make sure people think we were in on it. He's smart, this copper."
"Not quite," Cora looked up from her hand, her blue eyes skimming across the faces in the room, "He trashed the bakery; the one place people know Tommy would never touch. If they see that the bakery got fucked up, then they'll most likely know the Peaky Blinders weren't in on it."
"You're saying he doesn't know?" Pol questioned, a dumbfounded look on her face and Cora nodded, her eyes meeting Tommy's for a brief moment.
"Campbell knows that I have some relation to you, but he doesn't think it's a strong one. I made it clear that after the war, we cut connections and that this reunion is only recent." She explained. Cora wasn't bothered by the silence that followed. The information that she had just educated them with was valuable, much too valuable for them to forget or misuse.
Pol's brusque voice cut through the silence of the room, bringing the men out of their thoughts, "Go on, drink your beers, get out. You better show people you are still the cocks of the walk."
Grumbling to his feet, John shot his older brother a sly glare before opening the door to the room, Landlow, Smith, and Thomson following shortly after.
"Hand out some cash to the landlords of the pubs," Tommy called to the four of them. Striking a match, he brought it to the cigarette that rested between his lips, "Pay some veterans to fix the places up."
Lagging behind the rest of the group, Cora watched as Arthur pulled on his tweed jacket before grabbing his cap off the table in front of him. She knew that with his position in the business being compromised, he wanted to make sure that Tommy wasn't getting to know any extra information and that no secrets were being kept from him.
"So, what about you, Tommy?" He asked, fixing the flaps of his jacket and placing the cap on his head.
"I have to go to Charlie's to stable the horse," Tommy took a long drag from his cigarette, not bothering to look at his brother, "She looked footsore in the box."
Cora softly ran her thumb over her left palm as she checked for any bumps of glass or splinters she could've missed. She knew her best chance of checking her hand was at home where she had tweezers that could pull out small splinters, but she didn't know when she'd be heading back home. She didn't want the wounds to fester any longer than they had to.
"So you're sure Campbell knows nothing," Cora looked up at Pol's voice and watched as she walked towards her and Tommy, taking a seat in front of the two.
"Positive," Cora confirmed, clasping her hands together and holding them in front of her as Tommy walked to stand slightly behind her, his hand slipping around her waist as he pulled her towards him.
"And the ring?" Pol pressed, her eyes dropping to Cora's left hand and glancing up at her when she saw that it was bare.
"I don't wear it that much anymore," Cora said and she pulled the silver chain out from under her blouse, the ring falling freely against her chest. Cora adored the ring. It was simple in its beauty: a thin band of silver with a small, teardrop-shaped diamond resting in the middle. When Tommy had given it to her, he told her that it reminded him of her. Simple but remarkably elegant, "It's bad for business."
"That's not what I like to hear, Cora," Tommy muttered, his dark blue eyes meeting hers as they flashed a soft green in the sunlight. Cora grinned at him cheekily and reached up a hand to squeeze the ring.
"I'm just joking, love. In all actuality, I don't want to ruin it with all the baking I do. Dough it very hard to get out of the cracks and crevices."
Cora felt Pol's eyes on her and Tommy. During the war, Pol would often express her sorrow to Cora—her sorrow of Cora's relationship with Tommy. It became common for Pol to mutter 'if only it were a different time' under her breath when she cradled a sobbing Cora. Cora didn't disagree either and often wondered herself how things would've been different if she and Tommy had married earlier if Tommy didn't go to war, if his mother was still alive, if her mother was still alive, the list was endless.
Reaching an arm across her waist, Cora slid her small, soft hand over Tommy's rather large, calloused ones. Squeezing it, she stepped out of his embrace and grabbed her coat, shrugging it on.
"I best be going now, wouldn't want Campbell's dogs to get too suspicious if I'm gone for too long, would we?"
Cora smiled softly before she walked out the door and down the hall. She didn't want to go… really, she didn't. She and Tommy hadn't had any time together since his return. He had closed himself for the first three months and refused to see Cora. She didn't blame him at first, she knew that after everything he's seen, he needed time. But three months turned to six and Cora decided she had enough.
Before the mess with the guns, before the mess with Campbell, before his father left and his mother died, Cora and Tommy told each other everything.
They were their own special Yin and Yang.
Stepping outside, the gentle wind blew Cora's hair so that it danced around her to an unheard tune. The streets had regained their normality: kids shouting, people talking, workers working; and yet, as she walked down the road, it seemed as though the people parted for her. Arriving at her shop, she unlocked the door and stepped inside before shrugging off her coat and hanging it up. Bending her head slightly, Cora slid on her apron, tying it as she walked behind the counter and grabbing the fresh dough from the counter.
Her mind was blank as she began to knead the dough, not knowing exactly what to think about. Cora grabbed the Dutch oven from the counter behind her and sprinkled flour onto the bottom. She hurriedly rolled the dough into a ball before dropping it into the Dutch oven and placing it into the oven itself.
It was only when she turned back around she noticed the tip of a white envelope peeking out from underneath the coatrack that was placed near the door. She wasn't going to lie; she had been disappointed when she hadn't seen the envelope earlier that day. Hurrying around the counter, Cora pulled the envelope out and ripped it open, a laugh echoing around the silent room.
The chicken-scratch handwriting was barely legible, but Cora had spent a year trying to decipher it.
What did the baker's wife catch him doing when she got home?
By the time dusk had rolled around, Finn had burst through the door and bounded towards her counter. Cora was expecting Finn to beg for a cookie or any pastry, and she was already reaching into her display case to grab a few sugar cookies when he jumped up onto her counter.
"Hey," Cora barked, her eyes widening in shock at Finn's actions and her face twisting in disgust. That boy ran from the stables to the other side of town in those shoes and there was no way in hell he was allowed to put them on her counter, "What the fuck do you think you're doing?"
"We're having a fire," Finn stated as he reached forward and grabbed the picture of the king that hung on the wall. Cora's brows furrowed in confusion, mouthing 'what-the-fuck' as she watched Finn turn back around.
"Oh, no you don't." Cora scolded, gently grabbing Finn's arm and leading him around the counter and towards the door, "And where is this fire?"
"Front of the Garrison," Finn's words slurred and Cora opened the door, "You coming?"
Cora sighed as she handed Finn the three cookies she snagged for him, "I'll be there in a few."
"Thanks, Cora!" Finn beamed, grabbing the cookies and taking off down the street. Cora sighed, closing the door, and scratched her forehead as she closed the door and made her way back towards the oven.
Grabbing out the loaf, she tossed it on the stovetop and took off her apron before sliding on her coat. Cora twisted the doorknob twice after she locked her door and made her way down the street, taking note of the people who rushed past her. The glow of the fire traveled to three houses in front of her, and Cora mentally gave a hand to the Blinders. Whatever game they were playing, they weren't playing cautiously. They wanted a show for Campbell to see.
The pyre was littered with the king's photos and Cora winced at the bright light that illuminated. It wasn't hard to make her way to the Shelby's—they stood closes to the fire, facing the Garrison.
"What've you got here?" Cora called as she slid next to Arthur, the warmth emitting from the fire reminding her of the rush of heat that hit her in the face when she opened the oven.
"Cora!" Arthur cried, taking a swig from the whiskey bottle in his hand and swinging his arm over her shoulder, "I'm so glad you could join us."
"Is this a celebration, Arthur?" Cora teased, feeling Tommy's gaze on her for a second before Arthur let out a booming laugh.
"You're damn right, it is."
Shaking her head, Cora shook her head even though the smile on her face betrayed her. Maybe it was her gypsy blood or maybe it was her intuition, but Cora had a feeling that this wasn't the storm that was blowing to Birmingham, it was just the wind that was guiding it to its destination.
Chapter 4: Chapter Three
The bakery was closed.
As it was every Sunday and there was no white envelope under her door on this day… there never was. Instead of getting up at the crack of dawn and kneading copious amounts of dough or mixing batter, Cora was sat in Pol's kitchen, idly sipping tea and munching on a piece of toast—with butter and grape jam, strawberry never sat well with her stomach—as Pol read the newspaper.
Much like written in the Bible, Cora did not work on Sunday's. However, it wasn't because it was God's day of rest, rather it was because Sunday held great meaning to Cora. When she was younger, and her father had yet to leave her and her mother, Cora's family would leave for a picnic the moment the last church bell rang. Her father would drive her and her mother up the dirt roads to a grassland that only few knew Small Heath held. Her father and her would lay on the old, brown blanket and stare up at the sky, pointing out shapes as her mother fixed the food.
Cora's mother continued the tradition after her father left, claiming that she didn't need that bastard to drive her up the hill and that she could do it herself. For a while, Cora couldn't seem to find the same amount of joy she used to when they went on their picnics. Her family had fallen apart, her father gone, her mother working extra hours, and her watching their lives unfold. Florence, Cora's mother, wasn't unaware of her daughter's mood and so, on Sunday's, she created a new tradition. One that was just for the two of them.
Waking Cora up at the crack of dawn, Florence would lead the small child downstairs and two the kitchen. The first few times, Cora whined and complained at the time and how tired she was, but Florence ignored her daughter and kept up with the tradition. Together, Florence taught Cora how to bake bread, make cookies, and ice the cakes. The treats they created would be taken up with them to their picnic and the two would feast on the goodies that they had prepared, ignoring the oncoming stomachaches.
On Sunday, Cora spent time with her family.
"Good of you to join us," Cora heard Pol greet as she took a bit of her bread, her eyes flickering up to see Ada lazily walk into the kitchen, "Where have you been all day?"
"In bed," Ada hummed, making her way towards the kitchen, "Couldn't sleep. Then I couldn't wake up. Then I was cold and then I had to go for a wee. Then I was with this bear on a boat but that was a dream. Then I was hungry. Why are you reading the paper?"
"Why wouldn't I be?" Pol's question like static in the background to Cora, her eyes narrowed suspiciously as she looked at Ada. If there was one main similarity between Ada and Tommy, it was that neither of them liked sweets. Both her and Tommy had a habit of eating their toast with butter and drinking their tea with either one or no sugar.
So, when Cora saw that Ada was placing two heaping spoonsful of strawberry jam on her toast, she couldn't help but raise her eyebrow.
"I've never seen you read the paper." Ada stated as she took a large bit of her bread, shooting Cora a glare, noticing her questioning stare, "I've only ever seen you light fires with them."
Pol sighed, closing her paper, and Cora leaned back in her chair. Bringing the floral teacup to her lips to hide her smirk, Cora watched as Pol gave Ada an odd look. If Ada was what Cora suspected, then she had to learn to do a better job at being careful… especially if her brothers were around.
"The BSA are on strike. The miners are on strike. IRA are killing out boys, ten a day." Cora could almost see the warning lights flashing in Pol's mind as Ada took a massive bite out of the bread, the jam giving it an extra two inches in height.
Pol's eyes trailed down the young woman's body, her lips pursed and her eyes sharp as they landed on her breasts. Cora placed her cup down and glanced between the two women. Pol had an uncanny knack for figuring things out, she always had. When Cora and Tommy started seeing each other, they kept it hush and undercover. They acted as they normally did and never gave a single hint that something was happening between the two; and yet, Pol was the first to figure it out. Cora and Tommy had only been together near a month when Pol causally asked them how long.
Any secret that was hidden in this house was never hidden from one person.
"Stand up," Pol commanded, her cold eyes never leaving Ada's confused face.
"Why?" Ada hummed as she took another bite of the bread and looked at her Aunt. Cora's presence was quickly forgotten as Pol focused on Ada and Ada focused on Pol.
It wasn't unusual for Cora's presence to be forgotten. Her personality made it easy for her slip into the background. When the boys were at war, Pol and Ada would use this to her ability. On dark nights, she would slip into bars, flirt with men, and eavesdrop on their conversations as soon as important topics came out. Cora was never told to leave the room, the men either forgetting that she was there or not caring enough.
"Just stand up." Pol's face twisted into one of concern and she placed her teacup down as Ada stood up, brush her hands off and grumbling as she did so. Cora's eyes followed Pol's movements, "Side on."
It was quick, neither Cora nor Ada had seen it coming, but Pol grasped Ada's left breast and gave it a sharp push. Ada's reaction was fast, her mouth dropping in shock as her body lurched back. By then, Cora had seen enough. As Ada's body pulled back, her dress twisted around her sides and Ada's once petite frame wasn't as petite as it used to be. Especially around her midsection.
"Oi! What are you doing?" Ada squealed, pushing Pol off her.
"Ada," Pol's voice was gentle and stern, and Cora could hear the concern in her voice, "How late are you?"
It felt as though the kitchen had gone deathly silent at Pol's words. Cora's body tensed and she sat up straight, her eyes locked on Ada's face, observing every reaction that was quick to flicker across before becoming passive. Ada's closed her eyes before leaning her body against the wall and letting out a sigh.
"One week." Ada breathed, her voice wavering as her eyes locked with Pol's, "Five weeks. Seven if you count weekends. I think it's a lack of iron. I got some tablets."
"But they didn't work," Pol finished for her, sitting back down at the table, Ada following her lead.
Cora wrinkled her nose in thought, her eyes drifting to the window and she watched as the breeze that traveled through ruffled the clothes that were hanging to dry. There was no doubt in her mind that Ada was pregnant. Her years at the bakery had shown her every stage in which a woman was expecting: the cravings, sore breasts, swollen feet, long nights.
"We're going to have to visit Mrs. Simeon," Cora said, the two other women looking at her, one with fear and the other in agreement. "She's trustworthy and, Ada," Cora's looked at the young woman, "You'll find out one way or another. I think it's better we find out before you give birth."
Pol sighed, "She's right. We'll go later tonight. Nobody can see us or know, especially your brothers, Ada. Lord knows what will happen when they find out."
Ada only nodded in response and it didn't take a genius to know that she was frightened. Cora understood. There had been an… incident a week after Tommy had been drafted. She was late, had cravings, and her breasts were sore. In the end, she wasn't expecting, but Cora never forgot the panic that gripped her heart at the possibility. There was no doubt in her mind that she wanted children with Tommy, but when he had gone with the possibility of him never coming back, Cora feared for them.
"Why don't you come help me with the shop, Ada." Cora gently coaxed the girl, trying to help distract her from whatever the results may be.
"But you're always closed on Sunday." Ada's brows furrowed in confusion causing Cora to smile at her.
"Who said I'd be selling the sweets?" Cora said, and she watched as a soft smile formed on Ada's face.
"Alright," Ada agreed, before getting up and heading up the stairs to get ready.
While Ada was getting ready, Cora placed her dishes in the sink and slid on her coat. There were no words spoken between Pol and Cora, she didn't know what to say and Pol was deep in thought. Ada was already hurrying into the kitchen seconds after she had left and Cora knew that she didn't want to be in the house for much longer.
It made sense, neither knew when one of her brothers would be coming back. The two bide Pol a goodbye before heading out the door and walking down the street, passing The Garrison quickly, and arriving at Cora's bakery. Cora unlocked the door and slid into the bakery, Ada following.
"What are you in the mood for?" Cora asked, hanging up her coat and pulling on her apron, her eyes flickering to Ada as she waited for an answer.
Ada shuffled on her feet, her eyes flickering around the empty bakery before she paced towards one of the tables near the front and placed her purse and coat on it. Cora didn't bother to scold her, not when Ada was in such a vulnerable position. Aside from John, Ada would be the second Shelby sibling to have a child. She knew the struggles John had with keeping his children in line—the whole family did—and how Tommy was always on his back to take better care of the kids.
There was no doubt in Cora's mind that Tommy would be the same on Ada, if not worse. As the only Shelby daughter, there was no doubt in either of their minds that Tommy's reaction would be the worst. Arthur would laugh his eyes slowly turning to ice as he realized that it would not be a joke, John would scoff before threatening to beat the lad up, and Tommy… Tommy would pretend that everything was okay while he made passive aggressive comments to Ada.
"Shortbread," Ada responded after a moment of thought. Cora nodded her head, making her way towards the pantry to get the dry ingredients while Ada placed on the spare apron Cora kept under the counter and grabbed the milk and eggs from the fridge.
The two worked together in a comfortable silence. Words were only spoken when they thought it necessary, but otherwise, a stillness remained. Neither girls minded, though. While Ada mixed together one batch of shortbread, Cora was kneading another. Teamwork had always been a strong suit between the pair. They had grown up together and, even though Cora was two years younger than Tommy and three years older than John, the two depended on each other.
"Can you pass the flour?" Cora asked, already reaching for the bag that rested on the other side of Ada. Ada nodded wordlessly and handed the blonde the bag, her attention focusing back on the stiff batter together.
Opening her mouth, Cora froze, her lips closing and her eyes drifting back towards the circular dough in front of her. As much as she wanted to—craved to—Cora knew it was better not to talk about the events that transpired that evening. There was barely an hour left before their appointment—the sunset quicker in the fall than—and Ada was still mixing with the same amount of aggression she had when she entered the bakery four hours ago.
"Ada," Cora glanced at the clock, "We should go."
"Why?" Ada huffed as she blew a strand of hair out of her face and looked at Cora, "We still have thirty minutes."
"Pol wants us to get there early, remember? Before the workday ends and people crowd the street." Cora said, wiping off her hands and hanging her apron up on the rack before pulling her coat on. Ada grumbled at Cora's words but followed in suit, pulling off the apron and putting on her coat.
Under the cover of the falling sun, the two women made their way down the street before making a sharp left. It was the long way to Mrs. Simeon's home, but it was the safest. Going straight there would've raised eyebrows and murmurs would be floating around Small Heath before the moon could kiss the sky. Cora felt that the streets were unusually quiet at this time of day and she couldn't stop herself from glancing behind her as she walked down the cobblestone road, the paranoia building up in her at such a rapid rate her breath was coming out in short puffs.
Pol was waiting in the back alleyway behind the house when they arrived. Her head was slanted downward as she took slow, deliberate drags from her cigarette. At the sound of their footsteps, Pol's head lifted—slightly—and threw her cigarette on the ground, her foot stomping out the embers when she walked towards them.
"We have to be quick," Pol directed, and Cora gave a stiff nod while Ada refused to meet her Aunt's gaze and focused on the brown puddle in front of her, "Cora goes in first—alone—and then we follow."
The rest of Pol's words muddle into nothing as Cora calmly walked to the front of the house. As dangerous it was for Cora to be Thomas Shelby's wife, there was always a level of protection that she had that the rest of the family hadn't. Tommy knew her whereabouts at all times, and Cora wasn't blind to the men in with peaky hats that would make daily trips past her day—some making it extremely obvious that they were checking on her.
While some dared to test Thomas Shelby's limits, others worshipped the ground he walked on—or didn't but still appreciated all he did. And Cora, Cora knew that she was well liked in Small Heath, her warm personality attracting smiles from even the bitterest of men. Cora was protected in the town, Ada was not. She may be a direct Shelby, but ever since she was younger, people loved to see how far they could push Ada.
"Good evening, Mrs. Simeon's." Cora greeted, a smile on her face, as she entered the dark, musty room.
Mrs. Simeon's was a kind woman and one whom Cora enjoyed talking with. Her warm brown eyes seemed to always sparkle no matter how bad her day had been and a gentle smile never seemed to leave her face. Her face held no wrinkles or age-spots and it was only when one looked at her hair that they saw the mass of grey curls.
"Cora, it's so nice to see you," Mrs. Simeon's smiled, "Is Ada here?"
"I'm right here, Mrs. Simeon's." Ada's gentle voice greeted as she stepped into the small house, Pol only seconds behind her.
"Alright then," Mrs. Simeon's said, clasping her hands in front of her, "You can follow me back this way."
Taking a seat, an uneasy silence fell between the two while as they waited for Ada's to finish. Cora debating on starting a conversation with Pol, but the glare she was shooting her way was enough for Cora to keep her mouth shut. Fiddling with her handbag and twisting the ring around her necklace, Cora tried to entertain herself as they waited and tried not to let her nerves get the best of her.
Either way, everything was going to be okay.
It always was.
The stars had yet to join the moon when Ada rushed out of the room and hurried to put on her coat. Cora studied Mrs. Simeon's face for anything, a hint to what the answer was and what Cora would expect to follow. Mrs. Simeon's only nodded, a movement that caused Cora to close her eyes a take a sharp breath.
"Keep bloody walk, Ada," Pol commanded as the three of them left the house. The cover of the night sky was enough to block them from some prying eyes, but not all, "Cora can only take suspicion for so long, and there'll be questions of why we're with her."
Cora nodded mutely and the trio had only taken a few steps before Ada yanked her hand out of Pol's grasp, the cigarette in her hand shaking from the news they had just received.
"I'm not getting rid of it, Aunt Pol," Ada said, her voice wavering at the claim and Cora couldn't help but admire the young woman. When Cora thought she was pregnant, she didn't know what she wanted to do… not when there was a possibility that Tommy wasn't coming home.
"Just come home and we'll talk about it," Pol reached forward to grasp Ada's arm, her voice calm and soothing but with an undertone of urgency.
Ada swatted her hand away, "You get off me or I'll scream. I swear."
The sudden motion had Cora stepping in front of Ada. If anyone came from the side or the back, they would think that it was Pol and Cora who were having the conversation, not Pol and Ada. It was safer for Cora to suspected. Pol glanced around, annoyance written across her face, and she crossed her arms.
"All right, you want to do this on the streets, let's do it. Whose is it?"
Ada hesitated, and Cora saw fear flicker in her eyes, "If I tell you, you'll tell them and they'll cut him to pieces."
"Not if he marries you, they won't." Pol promised and Ada looked away, shuffling uneasily on her feet as she took a long drag of the cigarette, "Will he marry you?"
"I don't know," Ada muttered, her eyes focusing on the ground, "I don't know where he is."
"Jesus Christ, Ada!" Cora and Pol exclaimed, Pol rolling her eyes while Cora only shook her head, disappointment evident in her eyes. She would think that after what her father did with her mother, Ada would have a better understanding of what type of man to marry and—while Tommy wasn't the best man—he was one who would never run off with another woman.
"Look, he's gone away, but he said he'll come back," Ada tried to explain, her voice rising in frustration and, with what Cora thought, fear.
"Yeah, but they all say they'll come back." Pol snapped.
"He's not like that. He's a good man. He promised," Ada said, her voice lowering to a mere whisper as she tried to reassure herself, her eyes welling with tears as the events of today came crashing down around her, "He will come back, Aunt Pol, I know he will!"
"Ada, we'll believe you more if you tell us who he is," Cora soothed, placing a hand on Ada's back as Pol pulled her into a hug.
There were many men in Small Heath, Birmingham and, as long as Ada didn't have this child with someone who dared to push Tommy, she would be fine. But, deep in the back of Cora's mind, she knew that Tommy and Ada were similar and they always loved to taunt one another. Tommy was, in a sense, Ada's fatherly parent and daughter's never wanted to follow the rules that their father's laid out.
Cora knew that she didn't.
Ada had come to the bakery early the next morning and asked Cora to accompany her to a new film that had come out. Cora didn't have the heart to say no to her after last night and followed her out the door and down the street, passing The Garrison. She had no idea what film Ada had picked, but she didn't care. Cora had never been a big fan of going to the pictures.
The red velvet seats were strangely comfortable and the popcorn didn't taste stale. Reaching her hand into Ada's popcorn bag, her eyes trained on the fil that was being played, she brought the treat to her mouth, savoring the buttery taste. The sound from the film echoed in the room around them and even though there were some people with them, she felt as if they were the only two there.
It was only when a loud bang resonated around the room that Cora snapped out of the hypnotic daze she had been in. Whipping around, Cora's eyes widened at the tall man stalking towards them. Ada gripped her hand tightly as she watched her brother approach them and take a seat next to her.
"Tell me the man's name, Ada," Tommy demanded, ignoring the cold glare Cora shot him.
"Rudolph Valentino." Ada dryly replied, her eyes never leaving the screen as her grip on Cora's hand became harsher. Closing her eyes, Cora let out a sigh as Tommy stormed out of the theater.
He wasn't trying to hide his frustration and anger about the current situation and, while Cora agreed that he had the right to be angry, he wasn't handling the situation properly in her opinion. The click of the film being shut off only emphasized her point.
"Get out!" Tommy ordered as he walked back into the room, pointing at the people and then to the door, "All of you! Get on! Now!"
The theater cleared in mere seconds and it wasn't long before Tommy stood in front of the two women, his eyes looking almost black in the dim lighting.
"I said, tell me his fucking name." Tommy hissed, his eyes narrowing into slits as he glared down at his sister—his only sister.
"Freddy fucking Thorne," Ada stated, tears filling her eyes as she stared up at her older brother, "Yeah, your best mate since school. The man who saved your life in France! So, go on. Cut him!"
Cora tensely watched as Tommy stared blankly at Ada before heading out the exit, his silence creating an unease between the two girls.
"Cut him up and chuck him in the Cut!" Ada shouted after him, and Cora's eyes widened.
Wasting no time, she slid past Ada and rushed to catch up to Tommy, her heels clicking noisily against the carpet. There was no doubt in her mind that Tommy was going to do something to Freddy. Whether it was to throw him in the Cut, kill him, cut off his hand, she wasn't sure.
"Thomas!" Cora shouted, her voice covering the sound of Ada's quiet sobs as Tommy pushed open the door, the glass vibrating from the force, "Thomas, do not hurt him!"
Her hand had latched onto his wrist before she could think, stopping him in his tracks. His chest was heaving but still, he refused to move out of the dainty hand that controlled him. Cora's face was flushed from the sudden exertion of energy.
"Tommy, leave him alone. She hasn't seen him, so don't you fucking go and fuck him up." Cora demanded, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear and refusing to shy away from his cold glare.
Cora felt the blood rush through her ears when Tommy didn't respond. Instead, he stared blankly at his wife and blinked. She wasn't a fool; she knew that he heard every word she said. Tommy was stubborn, they both were. Pol compared them to oil and water, but even though they were stubborn, they understood each other's goals and actions.
"Please," Cora whispered, her soft blue eyes staring into his cold ones.
He didn't respond.
Turning on his heels, he continued on his way and left Cora in the middle of the street. Her heart hurt and her mind ached as she wondered what changed… what had happened between the two.
"Thomas, I swear to God."
Chapter 5: Chapter Four
Before the stark white envelope began to make its appearance, another had made the floor of her bakery it's home.
To compare the two would be as though one was comparing night and day. One was clean—aside from stains that were remnant of dough and the occasional flour—while the other was smudged with soot, dirt, and grime. And while one was written to bring a smile to her face and coax a laugh from her lips, the other was to warm her heart and ease her restless mind. Both letters were something that Cora held close to her heart and she never dared to throw them out.
They rested, side by side, inside an old jewelry box that her mother had given her when she turned sixteen. The only thing that dared to separate the two stacks of letters was a thin line of dark rose fabric. The letters were pressed sharply against the fabric and the fabric had bent to accommodate each curve of the letters on its sides.
Tilting her head to the side, Cora lovingly dragged her finger down the edge of one of the soot-covered letters. There had been a time when she and Tommy had tried to correspond every day since he had left for war. Cora had never dared to ask him what he was doing—Tommy had been a different man then. With no wrinkles and a smile that could light up the night sky, Tommy was the light in Cora's life. He was a constant; always bringing her up when she was sad and always reminding her that she wasn't alone.
Cora snorted at the thought, her finger catching on the edge of the envelope. She watched with dazed eyes as a small, red bead of blood pooled out of her paper cut. The Tommy that she had known as a child no longer stood in front of her, but that didn't mean she loved him any less. In his letters, he would write about all the things he wanted to do when he returned home: buy a house for the two of them, have their own barn, and maybe—just maybe—have a few kids.
The house and the kids were the only things that Cora had agreed with; there was no way that she was going to wake up early to clean out a horse's stable.
Maybe, if that dream was still possible, she would agree with him. Their children would get up with their father and head to the stables. There, they would learn all about horses from their Uncle Charlie as Tommy fed the horses and made sure they were okay. Tommy wasn't the most sentimental person, Cora knew that. There were only a few people in his life that he cared about and even if he cared deeply about them, he didn't like to show it. But, there was one thing in his life that Tommy would always be affectionate to.
When they were children, Cora couldn't understand why Tommy was so infatuated with them. All he seemed to want to do was ride them, pet them, comb their mane, feed them, clean the stables… she would gag at the thought before turning to go and find Ada. His love for horses followed him into adulthood and it was only then Cora understood why he loved them so.
Thomas's mother, Mary, was of Romani blood and made it a goal for her children to have—some—of the same upbringing that she did. Cora remembered blinking in surprise when Tommy told her that as everything made sense. The time that Tommy spent with the horses reminded him of the time he spent with his mother.
Cora closed the jewelry box before locking it, the blood had become a dark brown color as it dried on her finger.
So, why hadn't he come to her after he shot his horse?
The sun was barely kissing the sky when Cora made her way down the steps and into her bakery. It was Wednesday, two days after Tommy had shot his horse. Before the war, Tommy sought comfort from her. Cora frowned at the thought as she tied the apron around her waist; it appeared that he was seeking comfort in some other form. Her frowned deepened as she pulled dough out of the icebox, but what?
"Good morning, Auntie Cora." Cora blinked at the sound of a child's voice, her mind blanking as she looked up from the dough. Standing next to the coat rack stood a small girl, barely the age of six. Her lithe form was small enough to blend into the shadow that was being cast, but her bright, red locks made it hard to miss her.
"Colette," Cora smiled at the little girl, who bounded towards the counter, her thick locks flying out behind her, "What are you doing here so early?"
Cora didn't have children. She hadn't had any for five years and she didn't know if she'd ever have any. Tommy had made it clear when he came home that he didn't think that it was the right time for them to have children, that his business was too dangerous for a child to be running around in the middle of it.
It hurt to hear Tommy say that; after all, they had shared the future that they had dreamed of having with each other. But, Cora pushed her feelings aside and continued on with her life. Instead of teaching her own children how to bake, she taught Finn and John's kids. Finn was more interested in eating the treats while John's kids just wanted to throw the utensils and batter at each other.
On rare occasions, Cora allowed herself to wonder what her child would be like.
Colette, however, happened to be a child that Cora had known since she was a baby. Her mother, Lucille, had come to Cora's bakery in its early stages and had helped promote her business. The two had remained close through the five years; Lucille's husband was drafted in the Navy while Cora's was drafted as a Sapper.
"You said to come at noon," Colette said, her doe-like brown eyes blinking innocently up at Cora, "It's noon."
There was no way that she had spent five hours working on one batch of cookies, she could've over kneaded the dough. Cora's heart quickened, had she really been lost in thought for that long?
"Of course," Cora said, a confused look still etched on her face but she brushed it away. Motioning for Colette to come behind the counter, Cora grabbed the spare apron out from under the counter before handing it to the small child.
"What are we making today?" Colette asked as Cora tied the back of her apron.
"Gingersnap cookies," Cora said, a smiling gracing her lips when Colette gave a squeal of excitement.
"Those are my favorite!" Colette gasped, and Cora laughed at the enthusiasm Colette always seemed to carry with her. Cora had yet to see a frown cross the young girl's face and, even though she was incredibly shy, her lips always seemed to quirk up.
The two spent a majority of their time together talking, Colette asking questions and Cora answering them in a way that she could understand. Colette was more than excited to talk about her new baby brother, he had just turned four months old and Colette swore that he could say her name (to which Cora nodded with wide, inquisitive eyes).
"And then, Joey threw up on Da," Colette said, her face crinkling as she recalled the memory and Cora couldn't help but giggle. From the corner of her eye, Cora could see a hesitant look cross Colette's eyes and she raised her brow.
"Auntie," Cora hummed in response and Colette cautiously continued, "When are you going to have a baby?"
A few months ago—years even—Cora would've froze as her brain tried to make an excuse. Her mouth open as a noiseless answer escaped her lips, eyes wide with hurt and anxiety. Working at the bakery had taught her how to deal with the question. It wasn't unknown that Tommy Shelby and Cora Johnson were childhood sweethearts; both of them half-blooded gypsies with no true family except their direct blood. It also wasn't unknown that the only child Cora would ever be having was with Thomas Shelby.
"When the time feels right to have one," Cora responded, wincing at how mechanical her tone was and the fact that it hadn't taken her a second to think of an answer.
Tommy had said no to a child, but he had never said anything to Cora about never having one. And this, this one small detail, was all Cora needed to cling to hope that maybe they would be a family…a complete family.
The answer, much to Cora's relief, seemed to be enough for Colette for the young girl nodded before turning back to the fresh gingersnap cookies in front of her. When Cora felt the young child's eyes flicker towards her, she held up two fingers and Colette grabbed two cookies off the tray before rushing towards one of the vacant tables.
The bakery was slow today and Cora placed her bets that the reason was because of the upcoming horse races.
While Colette happily munched on the cookies, Cora wiped off her hands and turned around, her eyes skimming the shelves for the bottle of rum she had brought home with her a week or so ago. Her eyebrows furrowed when the dark-colored beverage was nowhere in sight and she looked to the ground, her mind racing through what occurred last week.
"Fuck," Cora breathed, rolling her eyes at her own stupidity. She had left the rum at Pol's house when Tommy had brought her to the meeting. Glancing around the bakery, she was tempted on leaving to run and grab some from Harry—and meet this new barmaid—but the ovens were on and she didn't want Colette anywhere near them.
"Colette," Cora called and she smiled as Colette looked up at her with innocent eyes, a cookie shoved into the corner of her mouth, "Do you want to go on a special mission?"
Colette was sold. As soon as the question left Cora's lips, she was already bounding towards the counter and squealing with excitement. Smiling, Cora rested her arms on the counter as she leaned over the side.
"I need you to go to The Garrison and ask Harry for dark rum, okay?" Cora said and the young girl wildly nodded her head, her copper curls flying in every direction. "So, what do you have to do?"
"Go to The Garrison and get dark rum," Colette repeated and Cora nodded her head. Colette didn't waste a second to race out the door and down the streets.
Chuckling to herself, Cora headed towards the sink and grabbed the dirty pans and bowls that lay in the murky, brown water. Grabbing fresh cloth and soap, Cora lazily washed the dishes, her mind drifting as she repeated the pattern.
Up, down, up, down.
The metal bowl slipped from her grasp as a loud gunshot rang through the streets. Cora didn't waste a second to run out of the bakery, her apron still on and the cold nipping at her cheeks as the wind blew her hair out of the bun. Cora's heart raced as she watched a hoard of people rush away from The Garrison. Some were ducked down while others were running as fast as they could. Her blood ran cold as her mind began to process the scene around her, her eyes widening in fear.
"Colette," Cora gasped, her body breaking into a sprint before her she realized what she was doing. Colette was shy and hated loud noises, and Cora didn't blame her. Being five in Small Heath was hard enough as it was. But when Colette was scared, she hid… she hid in the oddest of places.
Her mentality was very much 'if I can't see them, they can't see me', which was so unbelievably foolish.
Shoving the doors to The Garrison open, Cora didn't flinch as ice blue eyes locked with hers, nor did she flinch when Billy Kimber's men trained their guns on her. There was no doubt in her mind that Tommy was going to be upset—furious, even—that Cora had placed herself in danger; especially with Billy Kimber. But, Cora didn't care. She wasn't focused on her life right now; she was focused on Colette's.
With that one word, the anger in Tommy's eyes quelled—though it was still there and Cora guessed it was because she had four guns trained on her—and he dipped his head to the left. The movement was so slight that if you hadn't known him, you would've thought that it was a subconscious movement.
Cora's eyes left Tommy's as they drifted to where Tommy had motioned.
At first, Cora couldn't see where Tommy was motioning to but a lock of red hair gave away Colette's spot. Cora almost rolled her eyes. The child had managed to tuck herself underneath a bench with a fallen table in front of her, blocking anyone's access to get to her. Taking a small step forward, Cora froze as Kimber's high-pitched, nasally voice rang throughout The Garrison.
"Ah, well if it isn't Mrs. Cordelia Shelby." Billy hissed, his eyes narrowing into slits as they watched Cora's every movement. "What a coincidence that you'd show up."
Pressing back any sign of emotion, Cora placed a sweet smile on her face before turning to look at Billy. Slowly, she inched to where Colette hid, "Good evening, Mr. Kimber. How are you?"
"I wouldn't make another fucking move, Mrs. Shelby," Billy sneered and Cora stopped where she stood. From years of knowing Billy, she knew that he was unpredictable. You never knew what would set him off or when he would shoot. It was a game that Cora didn't fancy playing, "I'm so glad you could make it at this time."
Resisting the urge to raise her eyebrow at Billy, Cora's eyes flickered from Billy to Tommy. Carefully they trailed from Tommy to where John and Arthur sat in a tense position and she gave them a quick smile. Her eyes trailed back down to the ground and she swore her heart stopped in her chest.
A coin was on the floor in front of Tommy.
Cora's eyes flashed wide for a moment as everything made sense. Billy wanted her to watch Tommy submit to him. He wanted her to see that Tommy was powerless compared to him. That he, Billy Kimber, was the choice she should've made when she was eighteen and not Tommy.
He wanted her to see that the strongest person she thought to live, was weak.
"Well, go on then." Billy spat, looking back at Tommy and drawing Cora out of her thoughts. Cora forced her face to remain passive as Tommy bent down and picked up the coin, tossing it in his hand.
She could feel Billy's watching her face.
She didn't bother to waste her time looking at him. She knew that her reaction bothered him, that it was her way of saying that she still cared about Tommy.
There had been no romantic history between her and Billy Kimber. He was fifteen years older than Cora and she had never seen his face growing up, asides from when she caught his glances at the horse races. Billy Kimber was known for wanting things he couldn't have and the moment he knew that he couldn't have Cora, he wanted her.
So, on her eighteenth birthday, Billy had driven down to her house and knocked on the door, completing ignoring her mother's presence and making his way into their kitchen. Cora had stared at him in shock, a shall wrapped tightly around her shoulders as Tommy glared at him from where he stood behind her.
There, in front of the man she loved, Billy Kimber proposed.
And there, in front of the man she loved, Cora rejected him.
"It's for your ceiling," Billy sneered before he turned on his heel. Cora almost let out a breath of relief but stopped herself when Kimber stood next to her, his eyes staring at her with lust no man should dare.
To Billy, Cora was the apple in the Garden of Eden.
"Such a shame you chose him, ain't it, love." Billy cooed as he reached his hand out to caress the side of her face, the pale skin begging him to touch it. Cora stiffened at the action and turned her head, assuring that his skin would not come in contact with hers. Billy's arm dropped and his eyes grew dark with fury.
"Fucking whore," He muttered as he exited the building, not seeing Tommy's eyes darken or his jaw clench while Cora sent him a sharp look.
"Thank you, Mr. Kimber," Tommy called, and Cora wasted no time in rushing over towards the table. Kneeling down, she pushed it aside—ignoring the rip in her dress as it caught on a broken piece of wood—and picking up the five-year-old, gently wiping her tear-stained cheeks.
Resting Colette on her hip, Cora protectively held the back of her head with her hand when Colette rested her head in the crook of her neck. Ignoring the cold snot dripping of her neck, Cora maneuvered her way out of The Garrison. She froze, however, her hand hesitantly on the door. Turning her head, she caught Tommy's eyes and sent him a soft smile, not noticing the strange look in his eyes as he watched her with Colette.
Hurrying out of the door, Cora tightened her grip around Colette.
A storm was brewing in Birmingham, and Cora knew that it was going tear families apart or stitch them back together... she just couldn't figure out how she was playing a part.
Chapter 6: Chapter Five
For clarification of age during Cora's story time:
Cora: 15 (6 months older than John)
"Fucking hell," Cora muttered into the glass that rested against her lips, her soft blue eyes narrowed as they stared at the pretty Irish barmaid.
Envy was not an emotion Cora was accustomed to after her marriage to Tommy, but she knew that flicker of fire that rushed through her veins better than the back of her own hand. In her childhood, the three Shelby boys had been known to make girls' hearts swoon and tears pool their eyes at their words of rejection. Arthur, sensitive and sweet, attracted many girls his age and didn't bother to hide his smirk from the ever-growing followers that watched him from the schoolyard. John was no better; his humor and sharp-tongue was enough to make a girl blush as her heart pounded in her chest. It had almost become a game between the two boys—who would get the most girls by the end of the school year?
Their actions never bothered Cora. She had grown up with them and was deemed 'immune' to their charm by Ada, who would glare at any girl who tried to date her brother—any girl she didn't like, that is. Cora snickered at the memory, Ada's face would suddenly look as though she had eaten a lemon, her lips pinched as her brows furrowed and her arms crossed when a girl got to close to John or Arthur.
But just because she had grown up with them didn't mean that she was immune to all of them.
She wasn't even aware of what she was feeling the first time it happened. Tommy had just turned twenty when she felt the liquid fire in her veins. They had gone to The Marquis—The Garrison had yet to become official—to celebrate Tommy's birthday. Everything had been fine: the boys were drinking, she and Ada were a giggling mess but remained barely tipsy, and Finn sat in Ada's lap and watched the scene curiously. But, unbeknownst to Cora, John had decided to invite some of the girls from their school and, since Cora and John were a mere six months apart, Cora's eyes narrowed at his choices.
Clarisse Laken was well-known at their school, but not for the right reasons. To the girls, she was notoriously known for stealing other girls' crushes or tempting boys who were in a relationship; to the boys, she was known for easy sex and neverrefused an offer.
It started so simply, but Ada and Cora knew better. It almost looked as Clarisse had something in her eyes with how often she would flutter her lashes at Tommy and her giggle barely stopped echoing around the room the entire night. With a long, pale finger, she would twirl her long, black curls as the innocent smile never left her face. Her sea blue eyes constantly looked up at Tommy and she would bite her pink lips—ones that both Ada and Cora agreed were too thin to be attractive… or pleasing. Then, when Clarisse thought that she had her prey in her grasp, she would bring her arms close together and lean forward.
"Oh, Tommy," Clarisse breathlessly giggled, her dark curls falling over her shoulders as she pouted out her lower lip, causing Cora to gag and Ada to giggle, "You're so funny."
Much to Cora's delight, Tommy barely looked at the girl, continuing his conversation with John and Arthur as if Clarisse wasn't there. Clarisse, obviously, wasn't happy with the reaction she got and, after shooting Ada and Cora a glare, placed her hand on Tommy's thigh.
Cora had frowned, the fire feeling rushing through her veins again at Clarisse's movement and she straightened in her seat, her eyes narrowing as they stared at Clarisse's hands. Barely anyone had noticed her slight movement but she felt the icy gaze on her as well as a confused one.
"Clarisse," Cora began, smiling sweetly at the girl as though they were good friends, "I don't remember Tommy paying for, or requesting, your services."
The playful laughter that had danced in the air vanished as a dark stillness swept through the bar. No one was sure what to say for no one ever imagined something so vile to come out of their sweet little Cora's mouth. Cora could feel Tommy's gaze on her face and she willed the flush to not rise as she focused on Clarisse's dangerous glare.
"It's funny you say that," Clarisse said, her hand creeping up Tommy's thigh and Cora swore she saw red for a moment, "Because I don't remember Tommy inviting a pikey to his party."
It suddenly felt as though the temperature in the room had dropped and Cora felt blood rush to her cheeks. No, not from shame, but from anger. Her blood was boiling and her mind had stopped working, the only thought rolling around was the memory of what occurred mere seconds ago. She noticed Tommy straighten up as the slur left Clarisse's lips and how the rest of the Shelby family reached for their caps, Ada tightening her grip on her glass.
She had been so calm and collected at the moment, nobody expecting her to react.
But she did.
Clarisse was on the ground before anyone could blink, her cheek red as a small line of blood dripped down her lip, Cora's fist remaining clenched even though she stood above the girl.
And now, staring at the pretty, Irish barmaid, Cora felt like she was staring into her past. She could never forget Clarisse's blue eyes. From the way they had looked at her with a smug, pride at the slur she had just said or from the way she had looked up at Cora with so much rage—and a little bit of fear, Cora could never forget those eyes. Because, those eyes brought out all the insecurities that Cora had felt when she was a teenager.
"So," Cora began tiredly as she rested her head in her palm and stared up that the Irish barmaid, who had finally seemed to notice Cora, "Are you a whore?"
"Excuse me?" The barmaid said, her eyebrows raised as she looked at Cora with offense and shock written across her face. Cora wanted to roll her eyes, she really did, but after the Kimber incident and the lack of white envelopes under her door—which reminded her to ask Scudboat about since he was the one Tommy had assigned to watch her—Cora had felt an unknown annoyance float around her wherever she went.
"Pardon my words," Cora fixed before placing a small, soft smile onto her face. She wanted this barmaid to feel welcomed and liked, to feel comfortable enough to tell Cora anything, "It's just, I'm not used to seeing anyone other than whores work at the bar."
The barmaid seemed to accept Cora's strange apology and shook her head, a gentle smile crossing her face as her caramel locks waved with her head. The fire flashed through Cora's veins and she was quick to put it out. No one got anywhere by making assumptions.
"It's alright and, no, I'm not a whore. Just a barmaid." She said, and Cora nodded her head understandingly, her eyes searching the barmaid's for any lie or sign of falseness.
"But, if you don't mind me asking, why would you want to work in Birmingham? And the bar, no less. Miss. Lynette's looking for young women to work for her, she's right down the street. Surely, she has more class than the bar." Cora asked, the smile never slipping off her face as at the barmaid in wonder. The barmaid, on the other hand, seemed to have deemed Cora harmless and Cora watched as the guardedness in her eyes seemed to soften slightly.
"I'm trying to get away from class, Miss." The barmaid began to trail as her a look of unease shown in her eyes, and Cora was quick to finish for her.
"Johnson. Cora Johnson."
"Grace," The barmaid said, and Cora almost frowned when she saw that cautious look had once again made its way into her eyes. She stared at Cora as though she were waiting for her to pull out a gun and shoot her, or for her to pull out a knife. Which was ridiculous, "It was a pleasure to meet you, Cora."
Cora smiled and slid out of her chair, placing a few pounds on the oak countertop, "The same to you, Grace."
Much to Cora's pleasure, the bakery was quiet when she got back and Cora let out a sigh of relief as she hung up her jacket and made her way behind the counter. Slouching against the counter, with her head resting in her palm as she tapped her cheek in thought, Cora couldn't shake the feeling of wariness she got from Grace… and she wasn't sure if that was because she reminded her of Clarisse or because of something else.
Grabbing the pot of flour and pursing her lips, Cora smeared the white powder across the table before grabbing the chilled dough out of the fridge. She rolled up her sleeves and set to work kneading the dough, her mind racing. Grace never gave Cora her last name, even though Cora gave her hers. Not only that, but the barmaid wanted to get away from class. There was no doubt in Cora's mind that Grace was running from something, but what?
And why would she stoop as low as to working in The Garrison?
Biting her lip, Cora couldn't help but find it a bit coincidental that around the same time Inspector Campbell made his way into Birmingham's small community, so did a woman from a foreign country. Now, while that didn't seem to seem suspicious to others, this was Birmingham and nobody ever came to Birmingham unless they had family.
But she didn't want to judge too quickly. Maybe Grace was trying to escape a family mess or an unwanted marriage. Cora shuddered at the thought as she slammed the palm of her hand into the pale dough, she was all too familiar with the feeling of wanting to escape an unwanted marriage. Brushing her hands off, Cora grabbed the small knife from where it rested beside her and carefully sliced the dough, trying to make even chunks, before placing them on a tray and into the oven.
A shrill shriek escaped Cora's lips when she turned around to come face-to-face with Tommy, not hearing him enter the bakery.
"You're closing early today," Tommy grumbled as he lit a cigarette and took a quick drag, causing Cora to raise her eyebrow at him.
"I am, am I?" She questioned even though she placed the tray in the oven and took off her apron. Resting her hands against the counter, she leaned in, her face coming dangerously close to Tommy's, "And why would I do that?"
"Because you're accompanying me to the horse race," Tommy responded, his eyes flickering to her lips and Cora couldn't stop the smirk that graced her face.
Resting her head on her hand, Cora tapped her cheek as she pretended to think, "I don't remember ever agreeing to that."
"You didn't have to, love," Tommy leaned closer to the young woman's face, "I already made the decision for you."
"And what should I plan on wearing, Mr. Shelby?" Cora questioned, not backing away from how close Tommy's face had come towards hers, they're lips barely brushing against each other. Cora closed her eyes from a mere second the familiar smell of Tommy flooded her senses: cigarettes, alcohol, mint, gunpowder, "I figured I would wear red, but based on my recent trip to the seamstress, it seems as though you've already purchased a red one—and one that wasn't my size."
Cora searched Tommy's eyes, hoping to catch some sort of reaction but gave a slight pout when she didn't get one. Before the war, Cora could read Tommy like the back of her hand. She always knew what he was thinking about or what his plan was; but now, she barely knew anything. Tommy smirked in response, his lips brushing against hers as he pulled back, her heart pounding in her chest and lust clouding her eyes, and he stubbed his cigarette out on the ashtray that was placed strategically on the counter.
"I asked Grace to accompany me to the races a few days ago. Seeing Kimber's reaction to her before you got there, I figured that she would be a good exchange for a deal." Cora raised her eyebrow at this information but didn't comment, "But it seems as though you hold a higher interest to Mr. Kimber." From her peripherals, Cora saw Tommy's hand clench in unspoken fury, "And I figured it'd be a fun tease to have you on my arm."
"Well, Mr. Shelby, I'm flattered, but I must say no." Cora teased, leaning back and turning to check on her scones, pulling them out of the oven. Placing them on the counter, she let them cool as she turned her attention back to Tommy, "I don't have anything to wear."
"There is an exquisite blue dress in my closet at home and I would hate for it to go to waste," Tommy state, and Cora gave him a soft smile. She relished the moment the two were having, it felt like the war never happened. Tommy was acting like himself, the man she fell in love with, and she didn't want him to leave.
She knew that things were going to change after the war. She wasn't a fool. She knew what war did to the mind and she knew that when he left, he wasn't going to return as the same person. She loved no matter what, it didn't matter to her who he came back as; but at the moment, her heart swelled with hope—hope that things may go back to how they were. But that was foolish wishing.
"You know why I can't come back, Tommy." Cora murmured, hating herself from ruining the playful atmosphere between the two, "There's too much at stake right now and if we were to be caught-"
"I'll have John drop off the dress." Tommy cut her off, his eyes cold and her heart dropped to the bottom of her stomach. Biting her lip, Cora nodded and turned away, placing the scones on a display platter before covering them with a glass lid. The door slammed shut and Cora closed her eyes, sighing deeply.
She wanted to come home, she really did. But coming home meant leaving the life she always wanted, and there was no way in Hell that Tommy would let her continue to run her bakery the moment she went back.
The velvet fabric caressed Cora's fingers as she ran them down the dress that was laid on her bed. Tommy hadn't been lying when he said the dress was exquisite. The neckline dipped daringly, the perfect tease for the wife of a Shelby. Gold and white outlined the neckline of the dress and trailed down the left side, almost in a vine-like pattern. The dress dipped in the middle, an action that would emphasize her curves.
Cora turned away from the dress and sat in front of her vanity table, picking up the light powder and gently patting her face. Slowly, she got herself ready for the races, knowing she had more than enough time before she had to go to the races. She added a touch of mascara and some blush before finishing it off with a soft, pink lipstick. Wiping off the excess lipstick, Cora began to work on her hair. Brushing her hair back, she smoothed the top and sides of her hair before twisting it into a French knot.
Last, but definitely not least, Cora grabbed the dainty pearl necklace that she kept in a small bowl on her vanity. She ran her fingers over her soft pearls and smiled softly. Her mother had given them to her for her wedding day. Her mother and grandmother had both worn them for theirs, but Cora never had a chance to. She and Tommy had a quick wedding when they found out that he was being deployed far earlier than they thought.
Shaking herself from the memories, she clipped the necklace on before getting up and slipping the dress on, smoothing out the skirt and giving a small twirl. She couldn't help but giggle as the skirt flared out around her.
A knock on the door caught her attention and she stopped her childish actions. Smoothing her dress of wrinkles and checking her hair, Cora grabbed her purse and checked inside, smiling when she saw the small revolver that Tommy had got her in it. Opening the door, Cora smiled when Tommy's eyes roamed her figure—almost as if he were mentally undressing her, which she knew he was.
"We're going to be late," Cora said, and Tommy's eyes finally met hers. He nodded and lifted his arm, which she gladly laced hers through, smiling when he pulled her tight to his side. Walking to the passenger side of the car, Tommy opened the door and Cora slid in, placing her bag on her lap as he closed the door.
"Hello, Grace." Cora greeted, not bothering to turn around to see the blonde, "How are you?"
"Well," Cora could feel her scrutinizing gaze, "And you?"