The new novel from the author of The Russian Concubine and Shadows on the Nile
The Bahamas, 1943. Hoping to escape her turbulent past, twenty-three-year-old Dodie Wyatt has fled to Nassau. But the world is at war, and one night the peaceful life she has created for herself is shattered when she discovers a man dying in an alleyway...
Ella Stanford is married to a powerful diplomat who’s been appointed to keep the Duke of Windsor far from his Nazi friends in Germany. And in this city now teeming with danger, Ella has her own secrets—ones that threaten to tear apart her safe and ordered life...
When Ella’s world collides with Dodie’s, they find themselves caught in the spiral of violence and greed ripping through Nassau. But Dodie falls deeply in love with a mysterious American stranger on the island, and together they fight to uncover the truth behind the bloodshed, while struggling to keep each other alive in this perilous new world...
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Kate Furnivall was born in Wales and currently lives in Devon, England. Married and the mother of two sons, she has worked in publishing and television advertising. She is the national bestselling author of The Far Side of the Sun, Shadows on the Nile, The White Pearl, The Jewel of St. Petersburg, The Girl from Junchow, The Red Scarf, and The Russian Concubine.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
NASSAU, THE BAHAMAS, 1943
“Help me . . .”
The words slipped out of the darkness, thin and weightless, barely denting the sultry warmth of the night air. In the unlit street at the wrong end of Nassau, Dodie Wyatt halted, nerves tight.
“Who’s there?” she called out.
A soft groan. A stifled curse. A rustle of movement. Then stillness settled down in the shadows once more.
“Who’s there?” she called again, sharper this time.
Silence. It was the stark kind of silence that only exists after midnight. The smell of the ocean was rolling in over the Bahamas, leaving its salty breath to linger on the beaches and in the humid corners of the city. Dodie knew that if she had a scrap of sense she would march straight to the far end of the street without stopping, but his words—that fragile “Help me”—had snared her. She moved toward the spot from which the groan had risen.
“Say something,” Dodie urged, as her eyes scoured the ink-black spaces. Her voice sounded ridiculously calm. “It’s too dark for me to see you. Where are you?”
There was no response. Her pulse kicked uneasily.
She was on her way home from her late shift at the Arcadia Hotel, where she worked as a waitress. Her feet ached, the kind of ache that she couldn’t ignore anymore because she had been standing for twelve hours straight and the only thing she wanted was to climb into bed and sleep. But now a stranger was asking for her help.
“I’ll help you,” she said, not sounding quite as calm as before as she moved closer to the wall. “Just show me where you are.”
A hand seized her ankle.
* * *
The wind drifted up the street in fits and starts, making a shutter rattle and a dog bark in a nearby yard, and even at this hour of the night the gust of air was warm and scented with tropical flowers. It was just enough to persuade the clouds to shift, so that moonlight spilled into the narrow space between the houses, and for the first time Dodie could make out the figure at her feet.
A big man was slumped against the wall like a rag doll, his chin sunk on his chest, his legs stretched out in front of him in the dirt. Dodie could see a head of bushy brown hair and a pale gray suit that was crumpled and stained. One of his hands scrabbled jerkily on the ground, trying to reconnect with the ankle she had snatched away, but his other hand lay clamped to the front of his white shirt. It didn’t look so white anymore because a black stain was spreading rapidly from under his palm. For a moment Dodie hesitated. She knew that if she knelt down beside this man, trouble would enter her life. She had grown up with trouble and could smell it at fifty paces, which was why she had avoided it ever since she first came to the Bahamas six years ago, when she was only sixteen and had no more sense than a hummingbird.
“Please . . . ?” he whispered.
She dropped to her knees. “You’re hurt.”
“Help me . . . to stand up.”
Dodie’s hand wrapped itself around his free hand and his fingers clung to hers.
“You’re hurt, you must stay still. Don’t move. You need an ambulance.”
He lifted his chin and looked up at her, his skin silvery and bloodless in the moonlight. His eyes were deep sunken holes in his head and made her uneasy, and though he moved his mouth, no sound was coming out. She couldn’t tell how old he was—in his forties perhaps, although there were too many shadows to be sure.
“Don’t try to speak,” she said gently. “There is a telephone box back up on the main road, so I’ll just—”
“But you need a doctor.”
“No ambulance.” The word came out in bits. “No doctors.”
“But you need help.”
They both stared down at the hand clamped to his white shirt, just above his waistband, at the black stain that had grown to the size of a dinner plate, feathery streaks reaching out like tentacles across his chest. He raised his eyes to her face and his mouth dragged in a labored breath. Silently he shook his head.
Dodie didn’t delay further, she rose quickly. “Don’t move. You need to be in hospital, so I’m going to call a—”
His hand seized her ankle again. “No.”
The word stopped her. She crouched down beside him once more and lifted his hand into hers. It was as cold and clammy as one of the toads that burrowed under her shack at night. “I’m Dodie,” she said softly. “What’s your name?”
“Well, Mr. Morrell, we both know you need to be in hospital. You’re bleeding badly. Why shouldn’t I call an ambulance or at least a doctor?”
He sighed, the life seeming to ebb from him with each of his slow measured breaths. “They will kill me,” he murmured.
His voice sounded dry and exhausted and she noticed it had an American drawl from the deep south, perhaps from Alabama or Tennessee. “The person who stuck a knife in me”—she saw his eyes roll in his head so that their whites caught the moonlight—“will be at the hospital. Looking for me.”
“Why will they be doing that?”
“To finish what they started.” He exhaled heavily and she smelled rum on his breath.
“Were you in a fight?”
“We have to get you bandaged quickly.”
He grunted agreement, but slowly his chin started to descend toward his chest. It was at that point that Dodie thought about walking away. Back to her quiet routine where nothing disturbed the monotony of her work at the hotel and her walks on the smooth white beach. She knew she should leave this Mr. Morrell to rest here on his own. They will kill me, he’d said. And her? Would they kill her too? A lone young female would be nothing to them. Her hand unconsciously sought out the tender section on her own body, the soft spot just below her ribs, and sat here, fingers splayed in protection. But the wounded man started to slip sideways down the wall and Dodie quickly pushed her hands under his armpits to hold him upright, but the weight was more than she’d anticipated.
“Come on now, Mr. Morrell. Time to stand up.”
His head lifted.
“I’ll help you,” she promised.
The empty shadows of his eyes fixed on hers for an age and she could feel his distrust crawl onto her skin, but he nodded. “Yes.”
It was going to hurt, they both knew that. She leaned over him, easing his feet toward him, so that his knees were bent. She fixed her arms around his chest, clenching her fingers together behind his back, and inch by inch she dragged him to his feet. He didn’t cry out. Didn’t moan. But his breathing grew loud, almost a growl, and when he was standing upright, swaying on his feet despite her support, she thought it was the end of him.
* * *
Progress was agonizingly slow. Sometimes the pauses were so long that Dodie feared the man’s heart had paused too, but no, just when she thought he was giving up, he would start up again—left foot, right foot. His arm across her shoulders was muscular, an arm that did things, unaccustomed to lying helpless, and the grip of his fingers was tight, snarled up in her cardigan.
Neither spoke. Their steps were slow and labored. Fears were racing through Dodie’s head and every sound in the darkness, every movement in the shadows, sent a chill through her. She struggled to work out what to do, where to take him, how best to get him away from here. So when they reached the end of the road she steered him left, ducking down a dim and scruffy street. It was flanked by warehouses where the smell of the ocean was so strong it ousted the smell of blood in Dodie’s nostrils, but there would be no one around at this hour.
Why, Mr. Morrell? Why does someone hate you enough to stick a knife in your gut?
She shuddered, her heart racing as she listened for footsteps behind them, but when she glanced nervously over her shoulder, the shadows were empty. As they walked, Morrell muttered sometimes, small incoherent noises that pinned him to her and they drew soothing sounds from her in response, a brief wordless conversation. Her arm tightened its hold around his thick waist and she watched carefully where he put his feet. He was wearing neat white loafers that stood out in the darkness.
“Not far now,” she told him.
Dodie’s instinct was to hide him, to find somewhere he would be safe. So she chose a little-used path that headed in the direction of the beach, leaving behind the houses and the hazy neon lights of an occasional late-night bar where people might be searching for him. It seemed to take forever but finally they reached the point she was aiming for—a sandy track that branched off and twisted away through a dense fringe of coconut palms edging the shoreline. She breathed in the warm humid air with relief.
“All right, Mr. Morrell?”
“All right,” he grunted.
She was killing him. He didn’t say it, but she knew it was true. She was killing him. She couldn’t go on.
“Enough of this,” she announced.
With her heart thumping she edged him over to one of the palm trees that looped drunkenly over the track, its trunk a slender black streak against the velvet of the night sky.
He needed no second bidding. His knees buckled and he sank to the ground in an untidy sprawl. With care she sat him so that his back was propped against the slope of the trunk, checked that he was still breathing, and hoped that he wouldn’t fall over.
“You’ll be safe here,” she assured him.
There was a silence, a moment when neither breathed, both wanting to believe her words, before he murmured with elaborate southern courtesy, “Thank you kindly for your help, ma’am.”
“I’m leaving you now.”
He managed a nod. “Good-bye.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be back.”
She removed her cardigan and tied it tightly around his middle. There was a smell to him now, not just the blood or the rum, a smell of something bad. It was the sour stench of terror. She recognized it because she had smelled it on herself the day her father had waded into the wide turquoise waters of a Bahamian beach and announced, “Wait here, poppet. I’m going to swim back to England.”
In the lonely darkness under the palm trees, Dodie felt a rush of sorrow for this wounded stranger and wrapped her arms around him, while above their heads palm fronds shuffled in the salty breeze that came exploring off the ocean.
“Trust me,” she whispered in his ear.
“There’s no need to lie. You’ve helped me this far and I’m grateful.”
She shook her head. “I’m only going to find you some transport, Mr. Morrell. You can’t walk anymore.” She sat back on her heels and patted his shoulder awkwardly, aware that he didn’t believe her. “Just sit tight. I’ll be as quick as I can.” She even managed a smile of sorts. “Don’t go running off anywhere, will you?”
His hand clutched her bare arm.
“It’s all right,” she said softly. “I promise I’ll come back.”
A tremor ran through his fingers before he let his hand fall to his side. “Thank you, ma’am. You have been kind.” He exhaled a long breath as if he expected it to be his last.
* * *
Dodie ran. She zigzagged through the trees, sprinting along the sandy track. The route was familiar to her feet even in darkness— she took it every day—but panic made her feet clumsy. Twice she crashed into a tree, skinning an elbow and thumping the air from her lungs, while the nightly chorus of cicadas reverberated through the undergrowth. She made herself slow down and concentrate as she headed for old Bob Coster’s place. Off to her right beyond the trees came the rumble of the waves as they raced up the narrow beach and the familiar sound of it calmed her.
Oh, Mr. Morrell, what is going on?
She thought of him sitting alone in the dark, believing she had abandoned him. The poor man should be in a hospital, but she had no right to make that decision for him if there really were people lying in wait for him there. To finish what they started. The way he’d said it sent a shiver through her because he’d said it as if it were normal. As if any of this were normal.
The moonlight allowed her to quicken her pace and she had no problem locating Bob Coster’s house. It was set back in a small clearing, a wooden building with a roof of corrugated iron that rattled in the wind, and a small wooden porch where old Bob liked to laze in his rocking chair and spin a yarn with anyone who cared to split a beer with him.
The windows were dark, no sign of life. Dodie hurried down the side of the house to the back, where Bob boasted a good-size plot of land, cleared and planted up with sweet potato. He had built himself a toolshed. In these parts nobody locked doors—it was regarded as unneighborly—so Dodie lifted the shed latch. She reached in, found what she was searching for, grasped its handles, and backed out. She had her transport.
* * *
The wheelbarrow creaked with each turn of its wheel. The noise of it sounded raucous among the softly spoken trees and startled a yellow-crowned night heron into spreading its great wings in flight, silent and ghostly as it skimmed the silvery treetops. There was a brief spatter of rain, big bloated drops that drummed in the well of the barrow, but the clouds passed overhead, allowing Dodie to see more clearly.
Please, be alive.
She hurried through the warm night, bats darting on leathery wings above her head, and as she approached the spot where she’d left him she called out, “Mr. Morrell?”
Shadows stubbornly cloaked the tree where he’d been sitting.
He was gone.
She peered into the black blur of tree trunks. “It’s me, Dodie.”
Only then did she catch a whisper that drifted to her from farther back among the trees. She abandoned the barrow and, nervous of every rustle, trawled through the prickly undergrowth until she found him. He had buried himself under a carapace of slick wet leaves, and at the sight of him still alive, the depth of her relief took her by surprise. He’d dragged himself here and camouflaged his body—so he wasn’t ready to die. Not yet. Slowly he raised his head from the foliage.
“You came back.”
“I said I would.”
“I didn’t believe you.”
“I’ve brought a barrow for you to ride in.”
A strange hiccuping sound escaped him and Dodie realized it was a laugh.
“So that’s what the noise was,” he muttered.
“Yes, your chariot awaits.”
His hand grasped hers and didn’t let go until she had lowered him into the wheelbarrow, but as she tightened her cardigan around his waist, she could hear an odd rumbling vibration at the back of his throat that scared her.
“Off we go,” she said brightly, and took the strain of the handles. It was heavier than she expected.
She gripped the handles tighter but the weight of it was making her shoulder sockets burn. She blinked away sweat from her eyes as mosquitoes honed in for their midnight feast. What frightened her was that when she shook her head to try to clear it, nothing changed. Only her heart thum...
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