Chasing Ghosts. A Claire Dudley story and stand-alone sequel to China Blue.

CHASING GHOSTS – Book 6 – A stand-alone sequel to China Blue. :

It is 1949. After receiving treatment for shell shock in Canada, Claire’s husband disappears. Has Mitch left her for the woman he talks about in his sleep? Or is he on the run from accusations of wartime treachery? Claire goes to France in search of the truth, aided by old friends from the Resistance.

An excerpt from Chasing Ghosts. Chapter Twenty-Seven

The interior of Le Restaurant du Parc was dimly lit. It would have been bright and airy during the day because it faced south-south-west, but not at night. At night it was exactly the kind of place for a secret rendezvous, a clandestine meeting. And Claire should know, she’d had enough of them during her time with the Resistance in the war. She made for a booth at the back of the room and sat down. She looked around. She had a good view of the door. She watched a waiter lighting candles on the tables. Romantic, she thought, and tried to swallow the ache she felt in her throat.

     ‘… Madame?’

     ‘What? I’m sorry,’ she said, ‘I was miles away.’ She glanced at the menu. It said at the top in bold letters Evening Menu after seven o’clock. Her stomach was churning. She didn’t think she’d be able to eat anything, but it was gone seven, so she couldn’t order a drink on its own, she had to order food too. ‘I’m expecting a friend,’ she lied, ‘we’ll order dinner when he arrives.’

     ‘Would you like anything to drink while you wait? An aperitif perhaps?’

     ‘Thank you. A dry martini.’

     The waiter lit the candle in the middle of the table, bowed, and made his way around a cluster of neat tables-for-two to the bar.

     Someone had left a copy of Le Figaro on the seat next to her. She picked it up and leaned back in her seat. The only news reported of any interest to Claire was the death of the former French president Albert Lebrun, who had died in Paris after a prolonged illness. When Nazi Germany invaded France in May 1940, and took Paris a month later, Prime Minister Paul Reynaud lost a cabinet vote and resigned, as did President Lebrun. He made the biggest mistake of his political career, Claire thought, appointing Marshal Pétain as his replacement.

     She folded the newspaper, dropped it back onto the seat, and glanced around the room. Something had changed. She looked again, this time more slowly. A woman that she hadn’t seen the last time she looked was sitting on her own at a table by the window. The waiter, all smiles, waltzed over to attend to her. Then, turning his back on the room and blocking Claire’s view, he took the woman’s coat. By the fuss the waiter was making the woman was a regular diner at Le Restaurant du Parc.  

     The waiter bowed again, and gaily zig-zagged his way through the tables to coat hooks on the far wall. Claire turned her attention back to the woman. Her elbows were on the table, her hands were clasped in front of her, and she was gazing out of the window. Her pose was elegant. Seconds later she brought her focus back to the restaurant’s interior. She was strikingly beautiful. Her dark hair framed her small face. She looked elfin-like with large brown eyes and full red lips. If this woman was Eleanor Cheval, aka Simone, it was no wonder Alain had fallen in love with her.

     The little Claire could see of the woman’s clothes she was sophisticated, stylish. She wore a light grey woollen jacket, edged in darker grey silk. The jacket had fashionably wide lapels and was cut low with a single button at the waist. Beneath it a high-necked silk blouse in a darker shade of grey and a double string of cream pearls, a flattering contrast to her smooth olive skin. The way the woman was sitting Claire could see the blouse fitted snugly over small breasts. She was what Parisians call, très chic.

      Claire looked away from the woman when the restaurant’s door opened. Her heart almost stopped. Mitch stood just inside the entrance. Claire slid down in her seat, lifted the menu up to cover her face and pretended to read. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the waiter take Mitch’s coat and show him to the table where the elegant woman was sitting. The waiter pulled out a chair, but Mitch didn’t sit. Instead, he stood at the woman’s side and looked at her for what seemed to Claire like an age. Then he leaned forward and kissed the woman on the cheek. Claire looked way.

     Claire took enough money from her purse to cover the cost of the food and drink got up quietly and went to the toilet. Instead of using the facility she strolled past it. And, as she had done many times during the war, she opened the back door and walked out into the night.