The year is 1925, a time that hovers between two catastrophic wars, a time of jazz and sparkle, and a time of peace and reflection. For Lady Evelyn, struggling to outrun the ghosts of her tragic past, it is a time of transformation.
Left orphaned after a fire when she was only four, Lady Evelyn Carlisle was raised in London by her stern aunt and uncle. Now, twenty years later she has grown restless and is keen to escape her chaperone’s grasp. A letter from her cousin, Briony, living with her husband on Crete, comes at just the right time. Packing what she can, Lady Evelyn makes off for foreign shores.
Welcoming her are not only Briony and her husband, Jeffrey, but also his handsome and mysterious friends, Caspar Ballantine and Daniel Harper. Though the latter carries with him tragic memories of the Great War, Evelyn is glad to be in their company. With the sun warming her back and the dazzling sea in her sights, this fresh start seems destined for happy days ahead. Little does she know . . .
What starts off as a sunny holiday quickly turns into a sinister nightmare, when Evelyn stumbles across the corpse of one of her cousin’s houseguests. Drawn into the mystery surrounding the murder, Evelyn embarks on a mission to discover the truth, forcing her to face her own past as well as a cold-hearted killer. With the help of her cousin, the handsome local police detective, and the mysterious Daniel Harper, will she uncover the truth, before another life is claimed?
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The leaves in the branches above are gently tussled by the wind, and a group of cicadas has begun their ritual humming. Behind our perch, I hear Caspar’s voice making a loud joke, and a few half-hearted laughs from his audience.
For a moment, I forget that I have known Daniel just a few hours. We sit here both having escaped something from our past, unwilling to make it real by uttering the words. His friendly manner does little to disguise the discomfort of being trapped in his own skin. I am eager to ask questions, to know more, so my imagination fueled by unsatisfied curiosity will not paint a false picture.
Fortunately, before my tongue betrays my remaining tact, Daniel asks, “Where did you grow up?” It is such an ordinary question, I am snapped out of my spell, feeling a little disappointed.
“Mostly London. My parents liked to travel, though they only took me to France and a few jaunts to Scotland. And you?”
“I lived in Kent growing up,” a faint crinkle of a smile appears on the left side of his mouth, and I will it to spread to the right. Smiling faces tend to open up like unfolding maps, allowing an access one did not know existed before. He gives a tiny shake of his head and turns to face me. “You know what happened then.” The smile expands, though it seems an odd point in his story for this to occur. “I am sorry, I must have been a terrible party guest tonight. What a miserable impression I am making!” He shakes his head again, letting out a short laugh, neither happy nor sad.
“Not at all,” I also smile. “Besides,” I cross my legs at the ankles, “I am the one who should apologize, springing myself on you all. Briony sent an invite, though she didn’t mention she already had guests.” I raise my eyebrows.
“I am quite sure she would have chosen your company over ours. I have the impression,” Daniel gestures vaguely behind him where a few of Briony’s other guests are mingling, “she quite enjoys a full house.” I turn to look around at the veranda a few meters away where I see Rosie staring straight at me, at the same time seeming to see nothing at all, while Paul holds her hand and chats with Jeffrey. The woman unnerves me. Immediately as I allow this thought to pass a wave of shame washes over me, chastising me for my quick judgment. I turn back to Daniel.
“Yes, I believe you’re right. She has always liked being the hostess.” A memory flits into my mind.” I remember when we were girls she would play the mother at all our tea parties. I am less than three years younger than her, but she would convince me that I must obviously be the child.”
I sigh quietly, remembering us sitting in her mother’s conservatory, wearing our frilly pastel dresses, our short legs dangling as we sat in the wrought iron chairs, Briony presiding over the tray of pretend-tea and very real strawberry scones we had filched from the kitchen without being caught. While I tell him this little story, the air about him changes. He sinks deeper into the bench looking, if not relaxed, then at least slightly more at ease.
“I can well imagine.” The corners of his mouth curve decidedly upward. “You might understand my attachment to Caspar a bit better. We did not play tea-time, but we went fishing and hunting and learned how to ride our first ponies together. People change, but often we remain inextricably bound by happy memories and the people we shared them with.”
He is speaking more animatedly than he has all evening, and I am worried I will say the wrong thing and make him retreat back into his shell.
“I understand,” I say, meaning it.
“I thought you would.” The seconds of silence following are not filled with heaviness or sorrow and when I hear the sound of footsteps on dry grass, I am content to leave our conversation where it is, knowing that the first layer has been peeled back, and we are not strangers anymore.
Briony appears, a pale blue shawl wrapped around her shoulders. Following her are Paul and Rosie. In the cool light of the moon and the wide-casting glow from the torches anchored into the ground on the edges of the veranda, Rosie’s yellow hair gleams like a halo. Her face still expressionless, she looks like a statue, hovering over us. I stand up as they approach and feel, rather than see, Daniel lift himself off the bench as well.
“Hello, my dears, Paul and Rosie are leaving.” Briony’s voice is friendly as always, though I detect a hint of fatigue behind her chipper façade. Shrouded in her shawl she looks smaller even than usual, like a child almost, and I wonder how long she will keep up this mask before she tells me the truth and unburdens herself.
“Yes,” Paul confirms as fresh and friendly as at the beginning of the evening, “I’m afraid it’s getting rather late. But it was wonderful to meet you, Evelyn, and to see you again, Daniel.” He doles out handshakes all around.
Laria and Nikolas approach our little group as Paul is thanking Briony for a “wonderful evening”.
Malia is offering three readers the chance to win an ebook copy of A Poisonous Journey. The giveaway is open for seven days, and the lucky winners will be notified shortly after the closing date.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Malia Zaidi is a writer and painter, who grew up in Germany and lives in the US. An avid reader and traveler, she decided to combine these passions, and turn her long-time ambition of writing into a reality. A Poisonous Journey is her first novel.