This book has taken so long to write, abandon, come back to, fiddle with, abandon again, then finally finish, polish, submit and, with a final buff up, it’s actually ready to go!
My goodness it feels weird to be promoting one of my books instead of someone else’s!
Borrowed from the Secret Intelligence Service cipher department to assist Briers Allerdale – a field agent returning to 1920s London with news of a dangerous anarchist plot – Miles Siward moves into a ‘couples only’ boarding house, posing as Allerdale’s ‘wife’. Miles relishes the opportunity to allow his alter ego, Millie, to spread her wings but if Miles wants the other agent’s respect he can never betray how much he enjoys being Millie nor how attractive he finds Allerdale.
Pursuing a ruthless enemy who wants to throw Europe back into the horrors of the Great War, Briers and Miles are helped and hindered by nosy landladies, water board officials, suave gentlemen representing foreign powers and their own increasing attraction to each other.
Will they catch their quarry? Will they find love? Could they hope for both?
The clock is ticking.
68,000 words/ 248 pages
Publication 1 August 2016
And here’s an excerpt from Chapter One:
Siward picked up a small leather bag and led Briers out of the back of the building into a cobbled court.
“Nice car,” Briers said, admiring the vehicle’s powerful lines. “Armstrong-Siddeley?”
Siward opened the dickey seat and crammed his bag down into it. “Four-Fourteen Tourer, Mendip model. It was George’s,” he said as he got into his seat. “He only drove it twice. I’m keeping it in tune while he’s convalescing.”
Briers waited until Siward had turned the car and driven it out onto Buckingham Gate before he spoke again.
“How is your brother?” he asked.
“As well as can be expected.” Siward drove carefully, without much dash, content to follow a coster’s cart until sure it was safe to pass it. He glanced at Briers and smiled – a polite but unconvincing grimace. “Thank you for asking. He’s walking now, at least, and is his cheerful self, but we don’t know how long it will be before he can get back to work. He misses it.”
Briers expected he did. He didn’t know the details – all very hush-hush – and hesitated to embarrass Siward by asking. “Your brother’s a brave man. He could have cut and run. He didn’t owe his informant anything.”
“Yes, he did.” Siward’s reply was sharp. “The man was risking just as much as George was, if not more. And he got George to the border, injured though he was. I hope … I hope if ever I’m in a similar situation, I have half the courage. In comparison with that, anyone should be proud to do what they can, even if it’s not what they expected to be asked to do.”
“I see,” Briers said. Once Siward had taken the turn into Victoria Street he broke their silence again. “So – this business. Mildred?”
“Dear God in Heaven.” Siward sighed. “Don’t think I’m doing it because I like it. I just happen to be very, very good at it.”
“And how did you discover that?” Briers asked. “No, honestly. I’m genuinely curious, not poking fun.” He turned a little on the broad seat and studied Siward’s profile. “We’re going to be in close quarters for a while and I like to know a bit about the people I work with. Was it at school?”
Siward’s flush was immediate. Even the narrow strips of skin visible between his cuffs and his driving gloves went pink. “I didn’t go to school. I had rheumatic fever when I was six and again when I was nine, so I stayed with my parents and we hired a local tutor wherever we happened to be. Hence all the different languages, I suppose. No, it was when I went up to Cambridge. I read English and wasn’t doing too well. My supervisor – dear me, even he was a war hero – suggested I join the Shakespeare performance society. He felt it might give me more insight. I’m not sure it worked as he intended but, over my time there, I think I played all the main female leads – Viola, Ophelia, Rosalind, Beatrice, even Lady Macbeth. I enjoyed the challenge but that was Shakespeare, with all the weight of tradition of men playing female roles. Out in the street, it’s something else entirely.”
“We all have to play roles in this business,” Briers said. “Just remember you are doing something unique. Something I most certainly couldn’t do.”
Siward replied with a peevish snort. “Well, no, because you are a proper stalwart type. You don’t get people sneering at you barely behind your back. I bet you played rugger and boxed for your college.”
“Good guess.” Briers chuckled. “Rugby League was the big thing in my house. Pa was a follower of St Helens and when I was born, the week before they played in the Challenge Cup, he named me after the entire front row.”
“Briers?” Siward’s tone was sympathetic.
“Briers Winstanley Allerdale,” Briers said. “Actually it should have been Winstanley Briers Winstanley, because the brothers were playing, but even Pa wouldn’t go that far. Being Brian Carstairs for a week or two will come as something of a relief.”
Siward chuckled. “So your father was a Rugby League enthusiast. What about your mother? Are they still with you?”
“Yes, bless them. Pa is a country doctor, with a practice outside Eccleston. Ma – well she organises things, mostly Pa. I’ve got a younger brother who’s in the practice with Pa and a sister who’s courting.”
“Someone suitable, I hope?” Siward said. “Do they know what you do?”
Briers shrugged. “I think Pa has guessed. The others think I’m something to do with steel production, which I am some of the time.”
“That must be difficult,” Siward said. “At least when I write to my family I can tell them a little of my daily life. A clerical post with the government is close enough to the truth.”
“Just how many languages do you speak?” Briers asked.
“Five usefully.” Siward’s tone was matter of fact. “One picks them up easily as an infant and my nursemaids were a mixed bunch. I could speak Czech and Serbian by the time I was three and learned this odd kind of dialect mixture of Macedonian and Bulgarian from an Embassy driver who had the most wonderful pet ferrets.”
Briers laughed. “So if ever I need someone to give a talk to the ferret fanciers of Skopje…?”
“I’m your man,” Siward said. Their eyes met for a moment and both grinned. “Charing Cross.” Siward nodded to the turn ahead. “Why don’t you nip in and get your baggage while I turn the car around?”