the Diplomat’s Wife
the Diplomat’s Wife
To Phillip, with love
One of the most remarkable aspects of becoming a published author has been meeting the many talented people who work so hard to bring my books to life. I am forever grateful to everyone at MIRA Books, including my gifted editor, Susan Pezzack, and the editorial team; Heather Foy and her wonderful colleagues in public relations; Amy Jones and the other brilliant folks in marketing; Maureen Stead who always ensures smooth travels; Jayne Hoogenberk and Adrienne Macintosh for their fabulous work on the eHarlequin.com materials; the terrific sales team; and many others too numerous to count. I would also like to thank the amazing MIRA U.K. team for their stellar work, including Catherine Burke, Oliver Rhodes, Clare Somerville, Sarah Ritherdon, Alison Byrne, Bethan Hilliard and all of their colleagues. I am also grateful to publicists Margot Weale at Midas PR in London and Gail Brussel in New York for their work on my behalf.
Another wonderful facet of this experience has been the thousands of people who have come into my life from reading my book. To that end, I would like to thank the many booksellers and librarians who have promoted my work, the readers who have reached out to tell me how my writing affected them and the book clubs who have welcomed me into their homes. I am also grateful to the many authors who have so generously shared the benefit of their experiences with me, and to the writers in my writing group for their feedback on my work. I would also like to recognize the Leighton Studios at the Banff Centre for the Arts. The days I spent there during the formative stages of this book were invaluable.
Then there is the continuing joy that comes from those who have been with me from the start. Thanks to my rock-star agent, Scott Hoffman, and his team at Folio Literary Management, for their flawless judgment, tireless efforts and endless patience in guiding me through the publishing experience. To my friends and colleagues who have walked this journey with me every step of the way. And most important, to my family: Mom, Dad, Jay and Phillip (and Casey and Kitty, too)—without you, none of this would be possible or worthwhile.
I do not know how many hours or days I have lain on this cold, hard floor, waiting to die. For some time, it seemed certain that I already was dead, shrouded in the dark stillness of my grave, unable to move or speak.
A sharp pain shoots through my right side. It is not over. Sound comes back next in tiny waves: rats scratching inside the walls, water dripping beyond my reach. My head begins to throb against the icy concrete.
No, not dead. Not yet, but soon. I can take no more. In my mind I see the guard standing above me, an iron bar raised high above his head. My stomach twists. Did I talk? No, a voice within me replies. You said nothing. You did well. The voice is male. Alek, or Jacob perhaps. Of course, it could be neither. Alek is dead, captured and shot by the Gestapo. Jacob might be gone, too, if he and Emma did not make it across the border.
Emma. I can still see her face as she stood above me on the railway bridge. Her lips were cool on my cheek as she bent to kiss me goodbye. “God bless you, Marta.” Too weak to reply, I nodded, then watched as she ran to the far end of the bridge, disappearing into the darkness.
After she was gone, I looked down at the bridge. Beneath me a dark red stain seeped into the snow, growing even as I watched. Blood, I realized. My blood. Or maybe his. The Kommandant’s body lay motionless just a few meters away. His face looked peaceful, almost innocent, and for a moment I could understand how Emma might have cared for him.
But I had not; I killed him.
My side began to burn white-hot where the bullet from the Kommandant’s gun had entered. In the distance, the sirens grew louder. For a moment, I regretted telling Emma to leave, rejecting her offer to help me escape. But I would have only slowed her down and we both would have been caught. This way she had a chance. Alek would have been proud of me. Jacob, too. For a moment I imagined that Jacob was standing over me, his brown hair lifted by the breeze. “Thank you,” he mouthed. Then he, too, was gone.
The Gestapo came then and I lay with my eyes closed, willing death to come quickly. For a moment, when they realized that I had shot the Kommandant, it seemed certain that they would kill me right there. But then one pointed out that bullets were scarce and not to be wasted, and another that I would be wanted for questioning. So instead I was lifted from the bridge. “She’ll wish we had killed her here,” one said as they threw me roughly into the back of a truck.
Remembering his words now, I shiver. Most days he is right. That was some months ago. Or even years; time here blends together, endless days of loneliness, starvation and pain. The solitude is the hardest part. I have not seen another prisoner the whole time I have been here. Sometimes I lie close to the wall, thinking that I hear voices or breathing in the next cell. “Hello?” I whisper, pressing my head against the crack where the wall meets the floor. But there is never any response.