VEILED AT MIDNIGHT—Book 3 of the series Twilight of the British Raj
As the British Empire comes to an end, millions flee to the roads. Caught up in the turbulent wake is Captain Cam Fraser, his sister Miriam, and the beautiful Indian Dassah.
Cam has never been able to put Dassah from his mind, ever since the days when he played with the orphans at the mission as a boy. But a British officer and the aide to the last viceroy cannot marry a poor Indian woman, can he?
As this becomes clear to Dassah, she has no option but to run. Cam may hold her heart—but she cannot let him break it again.
Miriam rails against the separation of the land of her birth, but is Lieutenant Colonel Jack Sunderland her soulmate or a distraction from what God has called her to do?
The 1947 Partition has separated the country these three love…but can they find their true homes before it separates them forever?
Calcutta, August 15, 1946
The last arrow of sunlight shot back from the train’s brass trim, blinding Cam Fraser. As he narrowed his eyes, he recognized a face at the edge of his vision. A train whistle shrieked, steam hissed. A young woman in a green sari mingled within a crowd of Indian passengers. In an instant, his legs felt encased in steel. Out of that teeming mass on the platform she stared back. Her skin the color of milky tea, her hair a thick braid of silk over one shoulder. The fast sinking sun set her awash in a glow of apricot. Then crimson. She’d been looking straight at him. Then in the descending dark she was gone.
His sister, Miriam, gripped him by the elbow. “Hadassah? Cam, you said Dassah.”
“I thought I saw her.” He shook his head, the pain nearly splitting it in two. He squinted to see into the crowd as the rapid Indian dusk fell. Ten long years….
With her hand on his shoulder to steady herself, Miriam strained on her tiptoes to see over the throng. “It’s been simply ages! Cam, are you sure? Where’d you see her?”
At that moment, whistles blew, and conductors ushered passengers aboard the night train bound for New Delhi. Miriam sent a pleading look over her shoulder. “Find her, Cam, before the train leaves.”
He didn’t need any goading from his sister, and while the steward urged Miriam up the steps of their carriage, he dodged passengers along the side of the train. Hundreds scrambled to their seats, more well-to-do Indians to first and second class. At least that injustice had been corrected somewhat since his childhood. The plush elegance of first class was no longer assigned to the British alone. Still, hoards of poor mashed into the cattle-like carriages called fourth. But it wasn’t fourth he’d seen Dassah standing outside of.
For as long as he could remember, Dassah as a scrawny little girl tagged after him when he visited the mission. He and Miriam had played with the muddle of orphans—Hari, Ameera, Zakir—to name a few—enjoying the usual sort of games, soccer, rugby, marbles. But the last time he’d seen Dassah she’d been anything but scrawny. Nor had she been a little girl.
He reached the area where he thought she’d stood. Sweat soaked the back of his shirt. Blast this muggy monsoon weather. His eyes blurred. And blast this headache. No matter where he looked he couldn’t pinpoint any of the slender young Indian women on or off the train as the girl he sought. Had he conjured up her image—a mirage shimmering on the hot Indian rails? It wouldn’t be the first time.
He wound back through the crowds the way he’d come. As he passed a clutch of railway officials, their talk in Hindi slowed his stride.
“…Muslim League calling for a holiday to mark their Direct Action Day—”
“Shush your foolish fretting.” The Conductor glanced around. “…not until tomorrow.”
“The Hindu Congress is worried.” Another railroad man wiped sweat from his face with the trailing end of his turban. “I have heard rumors someone might disturb the trains, such as the Muslims tried to do to Gandhi’s special train.”
“Disturb? Pah! They tried to derail it, but that was months ago, and Gandhi is not on this train.”
“But many of his friends in the Hindu Congress are.”
The myriad of noise echoing under the station’s massive glass and wrought iron roof absorbed the conversation. Cam’s headache clasped his head in a vice, but the authorities running these trains knew their jobs. Even if there was anything to worry about, they didn’t need him sticking his military nose into things.
As he entered the carriage, Miriam glanced up. “Well?”
“No time. I’ll have to wait until we stop.” The train started to glide forward as he sat on the seat opposite her. He reached for The Times of India, wishing he had an aspirin—or six—and dropped the paper to his lap. He’d tried earlier to read the news, but the grinding wheels in his head wouldn’t allow it.
“Do you think it was her?” his sister asked.
He didn’t want to raise Miriam’s hopes. “I don’t know for sure if the girl I saw even got on this train.”
But the image of the woman’s willowy shape in the crowd was stamped behind his eyelids. Those arched brows, those eyes that were world-weary even when she was a child. So like Dassah, how she could speak without saying a word, how she trailed constantly after him and Zakir, only running away to hide when they fought.
Miriam smoothed her skirt over her knees. “You want to see her as much as I do. She’s like family. Like Ameera and Zakir.”
“Cam, surely you don’t mean that because she’s Indian.”
“You know me better than that.” He regretted the slight growl to his tone. Really, Miriam of all people should know better than to insult him with racial bigotry. “I’m saying that Dassah isn’t quite family because she left the mission. Her and Tikah. Not a word after all this time. If they thought of us as family they’d have contacted us. As for Zakir….” He rattled his newspaper open and pretended to read.
“Honestly, Cam, you’ve been like a mongoose bemoaning a stolen banana all day.” She wrenched off her white, wrist-length gloves and fanned herself with them. “You always get that way when we mention Zakir.”
His sigh would have depressed that mongoose she compared him to, but he couldn’t bear to talk about Zakir. Nor had he any intention of telling her how he felt about Dassah. Then to add on what he’d heard on the platform? Certainly not. Though recent intelligence expected this crisis to blow over, the sooner he got Miriam out of Calcutta the better.
She pulled open her handbag and offered him a packet of tablets. “And there’s no need to hide your headache.”
He smiled as he took the medicine, and she sent him a grin so much like their mother’s. Miriam was rarely nosey—bless her—and thankfully didn’t ask further about his headache.
Through the window, the darkening Indian countryside sped by under a green sky with a crescent moon rising. The rocking of the train lulled him, and he shut his eyes. But Dassah’s face emerged from his memory. That long black braid over her shoulder. The scent of roses and lilies from the mission’s balcony, the perfume of Dassah herself as he faded to sleep.
A slight hitch in the rhythm of the train gliding along the rails woke Cam. His eyes flew open. As though a change in gear…a step out of cadence. The train met a curved section of track ahead, and he could see the line of lit windows. Not a parallel line. A ripple passed through their carriage, setting the crystal droplets on the lamps to tinkle, the hairs on his arms to stand.
Their car juddered.
A thousand screeches—were they human or metal—as the train jumped like a frenzied horse. The momentum plucked him from his seat. Flung him across the carriage.
He picked out his sister’s screams from so many others.
Christine Lindsay was born in Ireland, and is proud of the fact that she was once patted on the head by Prince Philip when she was a baby. Her great grandfather, and her grandfather—yes father and son—were both riveters on the building of the Titanic. Tongue in cheek, Christine states that as a family they accept no responsibility for the sinking of that infamous ship.
Stories of Christine’s ancestors who served in the British Cavalry in Colonial India inspired her multi-award-winning, historical series Twilight of the British Raj, Book 1 Shadowed in Silk, Book 2 Captured by Moonlight, and newly released Veiled at Midnight.
Londonderry Dreaming is Christine’s first contemporary romance set in N. Ireland, published by Pelican Book Group, and she is looking forward to the release in 2015 of Sofi’s Bridge.
Christine makes her home on the west coast of Canada with her husband and their grown up family. Her cat Scottie is chief editor on all Christine’s books.
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Off to read another great book!
Sandra M. Hart