Kathy has very kindly allowed me to be a guest on her blog, to talk about my new book Saving Gerda. It’s a little different to the contemporary romance and women’s fiction I’m best known for, but has the same strong characters, strong emotions and complicated relationships that I love to write about. People are people, wherever or whenever they have lived, even if the circumstances that surround them are different to anything we’ve ever faced ourselves.
Kitty von Kolhausen has led a life of privilege, easy and beauty that most of us could only dream of. Out of the smoke and shattered glass of Nazi Germany’s Kristallnacht in November 1938, her family becomes linked by tangled bonds with another family from an impossibly different world. Can Kitty draw something from this dangerous new relationship that can save her precious child?
In the excerpt below, Kitty first meets one of the people who is going to be of such profound importance to her later on…
Potsdam, Brandenburg, July 1938
“Stay a little, when the others have gone, Kitty, darling, there’s something I want you to see, just you alone.” Countess Paula zu Greitz spoke close beside her ear in the sibilant, tight-mouthed German that Kitty had learned to consider beautiful. The Countess gave a smoke-laden smile, showing the gold in her back teeth, and Kitty understood that she was being offered a delicious, poisonous red apple of a treat.
The other luncheon guests hadn’t heard. They were an assortment typical of Paula’s choice, colourful in some cases but ill-fitting. The Countess zu Greitz collected unusual people, gleeful about her finds. Kitty qualified—a well-bred Englishwoman married to a German baron, an ideal blonde beauty, and a slender-figured wearer of this season’s Paris couture. She understood the need for unusual people. She could imagine the feelings of restlessness or daring in Paula that produced it. “We adore each other, Kitty and I,” she had once heard Paula say.
At a quarter to three the guests began to make their goodbyes. Paula had told everyone that she had another engagement at three o’clock. She signalled to Kitty. Go upstairs. Powder your nose. I’ll call you down when the coast is clear.
Obedient to her hostess, Kitty slipped away. Outside, cars rumbled into life and departed down the tree-lined street. Egeler the chauffeur would be waiting for her. She heard Paula exclaim over a guest’s intention of taking the train. The Countess offered her own car, but it was refused. The weather was fine, it was no hardship to walk. The awkward guest left on her own, on foot. A few minutes later the doorbell pealed, and a few minutes after that, the Countess crept half-way up the stairs and whispered loudly, “Kitty!”
She came down.
“It’s my painter, Johannes Fruehauf, our third sitting for the portrait.” Once again Paula’s mouth fetched up too close to Kitty’s ear. “Come and see him, he’s so delicious, really delicious, so different, quite simple and shy. I do hope you’ll choose him to paint you and your darling Gerda!” She positioned Kitty with a view through two doorways and they looked at the painter together, while he remained unaware.
He wore the dark trousers of a well-worn suit and a white shirt with elastic garters on his upper arms to keep the sleeves in check. He was a handsome man with dark hair, smooth cheeks, a straight nose and a very good mouth. His body was well-made and he had a haunting profile composed of sober, sensitive planes.
As they watched – he still hadn’t seen them; they were practically hiding behind the opened door – he took a frayed and shrunken woollen pullover and dived into it, dragging its ragged sleeves to his wrists. The garment had once been grey or brown, or had perhaps become grey-brown from laundering, and it was smeared with paint. On top of it he added a heavy work apron, equally paint-stained, made of suede leather worn to a shine, with a pair of gaping pockets in the front where the stitching was coming undone. They were very serious, these garments. Like armour, or a uniform.
“He dresses like a blacksmith when he paints, isn’t it wonderful?” Paula said. “He could be a blacksmith, couldn’t he? He’s strong enough, with those arms. Can you imagine?” She almost seemed to shiver.
But he’d heard the sound of her voice. He glanced up and the appearance of good looks and serious professional purpose was overtaken by a sudden crippling shyness, leaving him tense-faced, angular and clumsy. He stood awkwardly, suffering, while Paula muttered, “Oh, too bad, we’ll have to go in now. You can see what happens to him. Shy as a bear! He’s like an animal frozen by the light. Well, you have to meet him properly, anyway.”
The Countess was planning an affair with him, Kitty understood. She gave the game away with the girlish movements of her hands, the half-secret smiles and her talk of blacksmiths and animals. You could almost see her intention shimmering in the air, the motivation borne of mixed restlessness, sexual need and charity. It was disturbing.
“Mr Fruehauf, you must meet the Baroness von Kolhausen. She, too, is interested in commissioning a portrait, of herself and her delightful little daughter Gerda…” Paula turned to Kitty. “Darling, help me, how old—? I know her birthday is in November…”
“Twelve,” Kitty said. “In November she’ll turn thirteen.”
“I’ve mentioned you, Mr Fruehauf, recommended you very highly, of course.” Paula laughed. She’d placed too much emphasis on very highly.
“Oh, th-that’s very kind.” He seemed studiously or perhaps even innocently oblivious to the flirtation. He’d already uncovered the large unfinished painting on the easel in the Count zu Greitz’s study and he busied himself with repositioning it more carefully while the smooth colour in his face blotched with red. The painted Paula lay there on the canvas, a sketched form on an incomplete crimson chaise longue, in the nude. The real Paula peeped beneath her lashes at Kitty and smirked, wanting her response.
“It’s lovely. It’s beautiful.” She liked its lushness and colour and sense of magical light. She did not like the fact that the nude figure belonged to Paula, and that Paula’s intent seemed more naked than the picture.
She didn’t quite know what to do next. The artist, Mr Fruehauf, was suffering more than she was. He wasn’t oblivious. He knew. She felt for him terribly, so poor and shy and beholden to his patroness. How would he manage such a situation? His strong wrists had a prominent knob of bone at the outer edge, emphasising the frayed and shrunken nature of his sleeves. He began to unpack his paints and brushes, filling the air with the smells of turpentine and oil. On the suede apron, Kitty could pick out faint, printed letters, Appelf then a shiny, paint-smeared gap, then ohn. He rubbed his nose and a white streak appeared on its straight-boned bridge. Seeing it at the edge of his vision, he found a rag and wiped, which thinned the mark and spread it out but did not clean it away entirely.
“You’ll be the first to see it when it’s finished, Kitty, I promise,” Paula said. “Now, of course, you must leave so that I can change and we can get down to work.” She pushed playfully at Kitty’s shoulder. How much Riesling had she drunk over lunch, to accompany the mountain trout? “You can just imagine how exhausting it is.” She gave another laugh, too giddy and excited, and Mr Fruehauf glanced quickly up from his palette, ill at ease.
“Thank you for letting me see it, Mr Fruehauf,” Kitty said, not knowing how to help him, although she very much wanted to. Their eyes met for a moment, but it was too awkward. If she let him know how much she understood his embarrassment, she would only embarrass him further.
Oh, she already had. Oh, it was no good.
They both looked away. His brushes clattered in his paint-box. She said formally to him, “The Countess will tell us how to contact you, at a later date, if the Baron and I decide to go ahead with our commission.”
“Darling, do it before Gerda gets to that gawky age,” Paula interposed, not caring that she had made it impossible for the painter to reply. “It’ll happen any day, then it’ll be three years or more before she blooms into a rose.”
At the front door, the two women kissed with a tiny touch of lip to cheek, then Kitty went out to where Egeler and the car waited in the shade, while Paula hurried upstairs to undress and put on a robe, easy to discard again for the task of posing when she reached the crimson chaise. From the leafy street, the house gave away nothing about what might be going on inside…
You can purchase Saving Gerda and Lilian’s other ebook releases by linking to all major ebook outlets through www.backlistebooks.com You can find her at www.liliandarcy.com and on Facebook (link http://www.facebook.com/LilianDarcy ) and Twitter (@liliandarcy)
Lilian Darcy has written over eighty books for Harlequin, with her McKinley Medics trilogy out now in Harlequin Special Edition. She also publishes women’s fiction, chick lit and mainstream in ebook. Whether straight romance or something else, all her books feature her trademark strong characters and emotions and vividly drawn relationships. When she’s not writing, Lilian loves the outdoors, in her garden, on a hiking trail or at competitive equestrian events. If it’s raining, she likes cooking and music.