Published by Canelo
Ebook and Paperback 21 March 2019
About the Book
Separated by time and distance, two sisters seek answers for all they’ve lost
When Alice Verinder’s beloved sister Lydia goes missing, Alice boards the Orient Express bound for Topkapi Palace in Constantinople, determined to find her.
Lydia was governess to the Sultan’s young children and though her letters spoke of exotic delights and welcoming hosts, the reception Alice receives is decidedly cold and answers unforthcoming.
Now, as Alice digs deeper into the secrets of a land foreign to her she has only Englishman Harry Frome to help her. But as their search uncovers unforeseen dangers and exposes an unexpected ardour, is Alice ready for the truths they’ll uncover?
An emotional historical drama perfect for fans of Linda Finlay and Rosie Goodwin
My thanks to Ellie of Canelo for the invitation to take part in the tour and for providing the extract.
The crossing had been rough. Alice had only ever seen the sea from the safety of a promenade, and the mountainous white foam, swelling, curling, crashing all around her, was terrifying. The ship wallowed left to right then back again, cutting a tortuous path to the French coast while her stomach heaved and her hands clutched tightly to the arms of her chair. She had found sanctuary in one of the luxurious saloons for which The Queen was famous and remained there for the entire crossing, her form rigid and her eyes resolutely closed. It was the tide of fur-swathed passengers bound for the Orient Express that swept her down the ferry gangway at Calais and eventually deposited her on a platform running alongside the dock. She hardly knew where she was headed, though vaguely aware that her suitcase had been loaded onto the fourgon at the rear of the waiting train. Somewhere in the distance she could hear the noise of trolleys, of porters yelling, and the shouts of the train crew in their blue and gold uniforms issuing directions in French, in English, in every language on the planet, or so it seemed.
One of the porters hurried towards her, urging her to take her seat.
‘My compartment—’ she began.
He glanced quickly at the ticket she held between gloved hands. ‘The middle of the train, mademoiselle. For Constantinople,’ he called over his shoulder, continuing his swift passage up the platform.
She was still unwell from the sea journey and badly confused by the rush and bustle. In the distance she glimpsed people gathered outside the carriages the porter had indicated, and knew she must move towards them. But her body felt strangely limp and she had to force herself into a slow walk. Clouds of steam engulfed her and the words Compagnie Internationale on the side of the golden wood carriages hazed and disappeared. She was almost at the door of the first carriage when she sensed her legs buckle and feared she would fall. She had eaten nothing since last night’s dinner and had slept no more than an hour.
‘May I help you?’ The voice was unassuming, a quiet English voice.
She half turned and through blurred vision saw a young man, a concerned expression on his face. ‘May I fetch you a drink?’
‘Thank you,’ she managed. ‘A glass of water, perhaps.’
She thought he had disappeared, but in a few moments he was back bearing a small glass. ‘I’m afraid the sea crossing did not agree with me,’ she said awkwardly.
‘I can understand that. It wasn’t the smoothest, though I’ve known worse.’
‘You are a regular traveller?’ She felt obliged to say something, though she found the situation uncomfortable. Her mother would be shocked that she was making conversation with a man of whom she knew nothing.
‘I’ve done the trip a number of times. I must be used to being tossed around. My name is Harry Frome, by the way. How do you do?’
It was all most unconventional, but then travelling so far and alone was hardly conventional. Her aunt had accompanied her to Victoria and seen her safely into the hands of the train conductor. It was fortunate, Alice thought guiltily, that there had been only a few minutes for Cicely to say goodbye before she’d had to return to Pimlico. She’d had no time to realise her niece was bound for a quite different destination to Venice, and for most of the journey would be travelling alone.
‘I am Alice Verinder,’ she said as boldly as she could, uneasily aware she lacked an escort.
He frowned and she wondered if he were judging her for it. ‘May I ask where you are travelling, Miss Verinder?’
‘I’m on my way to Constantinople.’ It sounded ridiculous when she said it aloud. That she, Alice Verinder, should have reached Calais was extraordinary in itself, but Turkey was a universe away.
‘I thought you might be,’ he said slowly. ‘Your face is a little familiar. I’m employed at the Topkapi Palace.’
She gave a small gasp. ‘Then you must know my sister, Lydia.’
‘I’ve met her, certainly. But what a coincidence! Turkey must have a strong attraction for your family.’
She brushed the remark aside. It was his acquaintance with Lydia that was important. ‘Where did you say you met her?’
‘I didn’t, but it was in the library. I saw her there quite often. It’s where I work. She often brought her pupils with her – she was eager for them to know how a library worked. They would stay an hour or so, wandering the shelves, finding new treasures. She seemed a person who delighted in books.’
‘A library – at the palace?’
‘There has been one at Topkapi since early in the last century. The Ottomans inherited the customs of ancient Persia, you know, and the Turks are a most cultured people.’
‘I was not suggesting otherwise,’ she was quick to say. ‘But an Englishman in a Turkish library? That must be unusual.’
‘I work in the new library. There are two at Topkapi, one very old and much smaller, but the most recent was founded by a Frenchman, in fact. A Monsieur Valentin Boucher, a great philanthropist. Monsieur Boucher is still involved in its development, but I am responsible for the library’s day-to-day running. We own a wide range of literature and some very beautiful volumes. A few are extremely rare.’
‘It sounds most interesting.’
She could imagine Lydia loving the library. Her sister had always been a great reader, so often fired by the ideas and philosophies she consumed. It was only when theory took a practical turn that trouble surfaced.
‘I would enjoy telling you more.’ He looked across the heads of the people still crowding the platform and fidgeted with the small valise he carried. ‘I wonder – would you have dinner with me tonight, once we leave Paris?’ He sounded slightly diffident.
In the last few minutes she had begun to feel a good deal better, able to contemplate the long journey ahead with some equanimity, but his invitation shocked her. It was presumptuous. That was what her mother would say, and Cissie, too. But… Harry Frome appeared unexceptional, and he had known Lydia or at least met her sister several times. He could be the person with whom to begin her search.
She had hesitated a fraction too long, and when he spoke again his voice was clipped. ‘Naturally, I understand if you prefer to eat privately.’
She could see that she had offended him and made haste to mend her fences. ‘No, no, not at all. I would enjoy dining with you, Mr Frome.’
The serious expression he seemed habitually to wear broke into a smile, and his grey eyes warmed. For the first time she thought him an attractive man. ‘That’s settled then. I shall be in the dining carriage around seven this evening.’ He gave her a brief nod and walked away.
About the Author
Merryn Allingham was born into an army family and spent her childhood moving around the UK and abroad. Unsurprisingly it gave her itchy feet and in her twenties she escaped from an unloved secretarial career to work as cabin crew and see the world.
Merryn still loves to travel and visit new places, especially those with an interesting history, but the arrival of marriage, children and cats meant a more settled life in the south of England, where she has lived ever since. It also gave her the opportunity to go back to ‘school’ and eventually teach at university.
She has written seven historical novels, all mysteries with a helping of suspense and a dash of romance – sometimes set in exotic locations and often against a background of stirring world events. Her latest novel, A Tale of Two Sisters, is set in Constantinople at the turn of the 20th century when rebellion within the Ottoman Empire is growing Against this background the novel traces the fate of two sisters, Alice and Lydia Verinder, dramatically exploring themes of family, love and loss.