Dublin, Ireland 1940
An Irish journalist goes missing in occupied France and only his daughter can save him.
Nineteen year old Irish girl Catriona McCarthy adores her father. Apart from her late mother’s family in France, he is all she has, but as war looms over Europe, Kieran finds himself away from his daughter much more often than either of them want.
An outspoken journalist from neutral Ireland, he soon draws unwanted attention from the corridors of power in Berlin as he tells the rest of the world the truth about National Socialism.
Catriona is following her father’s instructions, waiting patiently for his return, but an unexpected visitor one day causes her to question who her father really is. The future looks bleak, there is a chance that he is in very real danger and she is presented with a stark choice.
Can she defy his instructions and do as she is asked?
Previously published as part of the USA Today Bestselling Anthology, The Darkest Hour, this standalone novella will take you to the deepest recesses of Nazi power and leave you on the edge of your seat.
Release date: May 5, 2019
Print pages: 105
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‘Au revoir, Catriona, bonne chance, et que Dieu .’ The Mother Superior of Lycée Sainte Yvette de Huy insisted on kissing Catriona on both cheeks – brushing dry, crusty lips across her skin. Catriona steeled herself not to flinch.
‘Je , ma bonne ,’ she whispered, eyes downcast, as the nuns had taught her.
Her father had already carried her luggage to his car, thanked the nun, and now he was waiting for her, his hand resting on the passenger door. Following him, she climbed into the open-topped MG, careful not to shock the watching nun by revealing a glimpse of knee. Kieran McCarthy walked around to the other side, lowered himself into the driver’s seat, started the engine and drove away down the long, sunlit avenue.
Catriona didn't once look back at the red-bricked convent boarding school that had been her home for so long. She was eighteen now and her school days were over, yet it wasn’t until they had passed through the imposing black wrought-iron gates – topped by an enormous crucifix – that she finally felt able to breathe.
‘Well, thank God that’s done with.’ Uncrossing her legs, she reached into the glove compartment for her father’s packet of .
Kieran nodded, handing her his precious silver lighter: ‘I know. That last half hour was tedious in the extreme.’
She was incredulous at his audacity. ‘Are you seriously complaining to me about putting up with that walking corpse for five minutes? I was stuck in there for twelve bloody years. And I could have been out of there three months ago if you’d only bothered to collect me before the summer.’
He winked at her. ‘Ah Catriona, my pet – you know I have to travel for my work.’
‘You don't “have to” anything, Kieran.’ She never called him Father or Daddy, as her friends addressed their fathers. To her, he was always just Kieran. She lit two cigarettes, stuck one between his lips, and inhaled gratefully the other one herself, then settled back into her seat, blowing out a long blue line of smoke. ‘You don't have to be a foreign correspondent for Reuters. You could choose to go back to being a home reporter for the Irish Times.’
‘But that would be no fun.’
‘Fun?’ Her eyes flashed. ‘It’s only you who’s been having fun while I’ve been stuck here with those awful nuns, with all their praying and their stupid rules.’
‘Ah Catriona, I brought you home with me to Dublin every summer…’
‘For a few weeks and then you'd rush off again!’
‘But at least you weren’t too far from your Uncle Gaston, and and in Saint-…’
‘But this summer and and Uncle Gaston had to take over the chateau and vineyard. everyone was far too busy to be bothered with me, and I’ve been trapped in that prison without a break.’
He grinned. ‘Prison?’
She scowled. ‘Yes, prison. The nuns were horrible. If they caught me speaking “en ” they went mad altogether. Herr Paasch taught in German and I’m bad enough at anyway without having to figure out his awful Hamburg accent, and Frau Moller, a total beast of a woman, tried to teach me deportment but I was terrible at it. She told me I was the wrong shape, too big on top and legs like a heron. I was always falling over my own feet.’
Kieran McCarthy was laughing as he drove.
Catriona glared at him. ‘It's not funny! I was always in trouble, constantly punished, while you were living it up in hotels around the world. And the postcards only made it worse let me tell you, in case they were to salve your conscience.’
Crossly, she turned to the window, undoing the top buttons on her tight school blouse and pulling off the regulation navy blue ribbon that kept her silky blonde locks in check. She shook out her hair, loosening it in the autumn breeze.
‘Catriona…’ He gave her a playful nudge.
‘Shh. Don't talk to me. I’m being angry with you.’ She was only mock disgruntled though, and he knew it. It hadn’t been that bad: she’d made good friends like Margot and Trudi, and at least on most holidays she’d got to visit her grandparents Louise and Philippe de in the chateau, and her mother’s brother Gaston and his lovely little family.
As the car sped on down the tree-lined roads, she she was still clutching his beloved silver lighter in her hand. Turning it over, she read the inscription for the thousandth time.
Car, , jour je , plus et bien que .
Ton Amour, Eloise
How often she’d read those words, as a child:
Because, you see, each day I love you more, today more than yesterday, and less than tomorrow.
Your love, Eloise.
A fleeting glimpse of her mother surfaced in her failed to solidify and flickered back to nothing. She had always longed for a true lasting memory, but it had eluded her for her whole life. All she knew of her mother was from old black and white photographs, which showed a small, beautiful young woman with an hourglass figure, very pale hair and dark eyes.
Catriona was conscious of her father gazing at her with a smile, and she knew what he was thinking: the same as he always did when he’d not seen her for a while. He was thinking that she was so much like her mother, it was uncanny, and that she grew more like Eloise every year.
Back in 1920, nineteen-year-old Eloise de had been studying English in Dublin when – much to the horror of her aristocratic French parents – she had fallen for a young Irish cub reporter and brought him back with her to France. They’d lived together in a tiny apartment in Lyon, where Catriona was born. The scandal of having a baby outside of wedlock was the last straw for Kieran’s parents, who hadn't approved of him running off with a strange French girl in the first place. Luckily, the young couple were so in love and so delighted with their new baby girl; they didn’t care what their respective families thought. They had each other and that was enough.
Kieran got a job with Le , a Lyonnais newspaper, as their international correspondent, and Eloise – a natural linguist – taught English and cared for their little girl.
Six years later, and married, they decided they could finally afford a honeymoon. They rented a small chalet on the banks of Lake Mirabel. Eloise was a brave swimmer and on the first day, leaving Kieran to mind Catriona, she set out to swim the lake. That evening, her body was found washed up on the far shore, and Kieran McCarthy’s halcyon days were over forever.
Six-year-old Catriona’s life also changed beyond recognition. Not trusting their son-in-law to bring her with him on his travels, Eloise’s parents had insisted on funding a boarding school education for their granddaughter. Since that day, Catriona had been waiting to be old enough to be permanently reunited with her father, and to travel with him to every corner of the globe.
Now that time had come.
She smiled to herself. It was hard to pretend to be annoyed with Kieran for very long. He was so handsome and charming – tall, with a warm smile and hair that came to his collar, and such vivid green eyes. Her classmates would swoon over him, on the rare occasions he came to visit. She turned and handed the lighter back to him and he returned it to the pocket of his linen jacket. His wife’s last gift was always on his person; it was never thrown carelessly on a table or left in a drawer.
‘Are you hungry, pet?’ he asked.
Her eyes lit up. ‘Did you bring something to eat? Please say you did, the nuns had us all starved at the convent.’
Smiling, he pointed to a paper bag between the seats.
With a cry of joy, she pounced on the patisserie bag, extracted a custard tart and gratefully sank her teeth into it, wiping the crumbs with the back of her hand before digging into the bag again. The girls in school used to marvel at how perfect Catriona’s slight curves remained, considering all she ate. Another legacy from her mother, by all accounts.
‘So, how’s everything at home?’ she asked through a mouthful of fresh buttery Madeleine cake. Despite being born in France and growing up in Belgium, she always thought of Ireland as her home. It was her father’s country, and therefore hers.
‘I’ve not been back for a while.’ He crushed out his cigarette in the car’s ashtray. ‘I’ve been in Germany this summer, covering the latest Nazi rally in Nuremberg. They get more elaborate every year. This time it was all about the glorious Anschluss between Germany and Austria. They just love him, that Hitler. It’s almost a religion, the way they adore him. Still, he’s saying all the right things, and Germany was flattened after Versailles so you can kind of see why – but it’s weird there now, the Nazis control everything and anyone who has anything negative to say about them...let’s just say, it doesn’t end well.’
Catriona loved it when her father spoke to her as if she were an adult. She tried to sound knowledgeable. ‘I suppose he’ll want to take over Belgium next.’
For a while, Kieran remained silent, and she feared she’d said something stupid, but then he answered lightly. ‘Who knows? This German-speaking bit of Belgium is probably too insignificant for the Führer.’
She felt relieved. ‘And it’s not just , of course. Everyone here speaks French as well.’
He glanced at her. ‘And you?’
‘Yes, I’m officially trilingual now,’ she acknowledged with a flourish and a grin. ‘The nuns made us speak nothing but French. Learning German was harder, but I’m good at languages. Trudi – she’s from Frankfurt, remember her? – says my accent is quite acceptable for a girl educated in Belgium.’
‘Ah yes, Trudi. What’s she going to do now?’
‘Go home to Germany, probably to marry Gerhardt, who wrote to her every week since our first year. He’s nice, he came with her parents last summer and they all took Trudi and me out for a picnic on the banks of the . They felt sorry for me being virtually an orphan…’ She glanced at him mischievously to show she was only joking. ‘Anyway, her parents came to collect her in July. I’ve really missed her since. It’s hard to imagine them all as supporters of Hitler but I think they are. Her father works for some official and her little brother is in a thing like the boy scouts except it's all about Hitler apparently. We were kind of sheltered from the world by the nuns but the letters the German girls kept getting from home were a bit eye-opening.’
He looked grim. ‘Hitler means business anyway, no doubt about that.’
The German-language road signs and shop fronts were falling behind them as they passed out of this part of Belgium towards Calais in northern France. There, they would catch the ferry to Dover and then drive across England to catch another ferry to Dublin.
‘So, back to Dublin and then where?’ she asked him, licking the last of the crumbs from her fingers and wiping them on her skirt.
Acting as if he hadn't heard her, he the little MG on the longer, wider road. He drove too hard and but she felt safe with him. She would always feel safe with him. Whether he liked it or not, she was determined to travel the world with him, wherever his reporting took them. She was a grown woman now, not a silly little girl who could be left behind.
‘I’m twenty, I’m an adult! If you won’t take me with you this time, I don’t care; I’m going to London anyway. Dublin is driving me insane. Do you know what I did last week? I’ll tell you, shall I? Folded three hundred linen napkins and I only had the pleasure of folding the stupid things after I’d ironed them. No, I’ve decided. I’ve had enough of this. I’m coming with you this time and I don’t care what you say.’
Catriona wished her voice didn't sound so whiney. When she’d been preparing this conversation in her mind, she’d sounded like an adult. found herself on the point of childish tears.
It was all Kieran’s fault. Despite her hopes for travelling everywhere with her father, he had constantly refused to take her with him. Instead, he’d made her take a job in the Royal Hotel on Dame Street where she was supposed to be front of house – her ability to converse in three languages being her greatest strength. Yet since the war broke out there were no tourists and she’d been demoted to housekeeping, which she absolutely loathed. Last week she’d had to rebuff the advances of the married and distinctly slimy manager, Kingston, by kneeing him in the balls when he’d cornered her in the stationery cupboard.
She couldn’t stick it a moment longer.
She accepted that Kieran felt war-torn Europe was too dangerous for her right now. She hadn't tried to make him take her with him when Reuters sent him to Paris to report on the fall of France to the Nazis. However, his next assignment was in London, and that was where she wanted to be. There was no real war raging in England, there were so many opportunities there, and Margot, her English friend from the convent days, kept on urging her to come over. It was all dances and uniforms and so much fun.
Kieran stood in the sunny kitchen of their two-bedroomed terraced house in Rathgar, rifling through all the post that had come for him in the month he’d been gone and clearly only half-listening to his daughter’s rant. He looked more than usual – his hair needed to be cut and his clothes were very worn.
She grabbed the letters from him, throwing them on the draining board, her brown eyes flashing with fury. ‘I’m speaking to you!’ she shouted.
‘No, you’re not,’ her father replied calmly. ‘You’re roaring at me, an entirely different thing. Now, I’m starving, and since I wouldn’t dream of asking if there was anything to eat in this house, I’m going to the Shelbourne for and you are welcome to join me – but the fishwife impression has to stop.’ He smiled sweetly at her, which drove her even more mad. However, she knew if she kept on shouting, he would just walk away.
‘Fine, I’ll get my coat.’ She turned on her heel, seething internally.
When she returned to the kitchen, she saw him wince as he stretched to put the bills on the shelf.
‘What’s wrong?’ she cried in alarm – her anger forgotten. ‘Are you hurt?’
He became evasive. ‘No, I’m fine, had a few too many drinks one night and fell down the stairs.’
‘Show me,’ she demanded, pulling open his shirt. To her horror, his entire chest was black and blue; the skin grazed and cut. ‘You never got all that just falling downstairs! Tell me the truth!’
He shrugged, doing up the buttons again. ‘Fine. I was in the wrong place with the wrong woman and her husband had something to say about it. Now, stop fussing. Are we going to eat or not?’ He kissed the top of her head and ushered her out the door. Clearly, he was in no mood to discuss it further.
All the way to St Stephen’s Green, she kept her hand tucked into his arm. She hated the idea of him getting into such scrapes – she knew nobody would ever replace her mother in his heart, but she’d seen how women flirted with him and he clearly needed Catriona to keep him on the straight and narrow.
The Horseshoe Bar in the Shelbourne was thronged. Several people Kieran from the pieces he regularly contributed to the Irish Times. His articles were syndicated wherever a free press remained. Some came up to speak to him, asking his opinion about what was going on in Europe. He was as open and honest in his answers as he was in his journalism, but he wound up the conversations quickly and then gave his daughter his full attention.
‘Now, tell me calmly what you have in mind and we can talk about it like rational adults.’ He ordered a bottle of claret and poured each of them a glass.
Catriona took a deep breath. ‘Please let me come with you to London, Kieran.’
He sighed. ‘Is it really that bad here that you want to leave neutral Ireland to live in a country which is at war?’
‘I’m sorry, but I just hate it here. I know I’m Irish and all of that, and you are too, and we’ll always be Irish in our hearts, but I’ve been away so long, and I don’t feel like I fit in anymore. I loved Ireland when I was a child because it was always time with you and we did lots of great things together, but now, here on my own, I feel like a stranger. I’ll never make real friends. The girls at the hotel think I’m a snob because I use French words by accident. The food is horrible and everywhere feels so small… If I were in London with you, at least I wouldn’t feel so alone.’
He looked sad. ‘I’m sorry you're so unhappy in Dublin, my pet. It’s a shame you can't go to your mother’s family in Saint-.’
Catriona shook her head. ‘I love and and Gaston and Marie-Claire, but that’s not where I want to be.’
‘And even if you wanted to be there, France is too dangerous right now – especially for you.’
She was taken aback. ‘Especially for me?’
He smiled wryly. ‘You're my daughter, Catriona, and I’m not very popular there, to put it mildly. I’ve written very bluntly about what I think of Hitler and his henchmen, and about the pitiful capitulation of the French under their jackboots.’ He took a quick mouthful of his wine, although the action of raising his glass to his mouth caused him to wince slightly, then added under his breath, ‘The arrogance and naiveté of them – thinking the Maginot Line would save them, and then the chaos when the French government scattered, causing the French army to collapse. Pétain is a fool, and worse, a German puppet.’
Catriona shuddered. The idea of Hitler’s soldiers ordering her French family about made her blood boil. It seemed wherever Germany set its sights they just marched in and took over, helping themselves to what wasn’t theirs… It made her think of slimy Kingston. She played her final card. ‘That’s another reason you have to take me with you to London. The hotel manager tried to pin me against the wall in the stationery so I had to knee him in the balls to escape.’
‘Did he hurt you?’ asked Kieran, suddenly paying close attention.
‘No, I’m fine, but men know I’m here on my own and I feel so vulnerable…’ This wasn’t strictly true. Despite her small size, she was well able to take care of herself and see off unwanted attention. But she had to try everything to win this argument.
Kieran sighed and sat back, fixing his daughter with his steady gaze. She knew that look. It was one of the reasons he was so successful as a journalist: he could sense lies much better than anyone she knew. After what seemed like an hour, he finally spoke: ‘Fine. You can come to London.’
She couldn’t believe her ears. Was he agreeing to let her travel with him?
‘Thank you so much!’ she gasped.
He pulled a face – half-humorous, half-exasperated. ‘You won’t like it, I’m warning you. For one thing, you eat like a horse and if you think the food here is bad, wait until you’ve tried some serious rationing. I give you six months and you’ll be begging to come home...’
‘I won’t, I promise!’
‘… I won’t sell our place, we’ll rent it to a woman I know in the embassy looking for a place to live. I’m going back to France for a while next week, provided that my contacts can get me in, although it’s getting harder and harder…’
‘Oh, I see.’ Her heart sunk. He was going again, without her.
‘…so how about you travel over to England, stay with your friend Margot and find us a house to rent in London? I’ll come and meet you there.’
Catriona grinned from ear to ear. Her father trusted her to find them a house. He must see her as an adult after all.
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