Katrine squared her shoulders and instinctively pressed a hand to her stomach as she stepped through the open doors of the café, past the yellow sign that read NO JEWS ALLOWED. She paused as the strong aroma of coffee and cigarette smoke hit her face. Men and women clustered around tables. Beautiful people in the height of their glory.
Looking around at the room’s flocked wallpaper, ornate light fixtures, and marble flooring, she found it hard to believe that not too far away a war stormed. Not only battles for land and power, but a war against a people—her people . . . or what used to be her people.
Tucked between France, Holland, and Germany, Belgium had fallen to Nazi control in 1940, four years earlier. Yet many acted as if the war were not more than a minor disturbance—especially the Germans who filled and controlled the streets, embracing the country as their own.
Katrine had come here too, to escape, to blend in with the numerous transplants on the Belgium streets. More than a year had passed since she was Rebecca Lodz. With the right connections and right papers, she’d hidden herself well. Perhaps too well.
She had visited this café and sipped coffee with her lover only the day before. Yet today she looked upon the scene differently. Now when she glanced at the other women with their fine clothes, red lips, and fancy hats, she realized what she’d become, and whom she’d betrayed. Heaviness burdened her chest the same way it had when she was hiding in that dark, smelly barn.
Only this time it wasn’t rotten potatoes that pressed upon her, animal fodder that for a time had protected her from death. Her burden now was shame—for she was to birth the child of a man who wouldn’t hesitate to kill her if he only knew the truth.
She sucked in a calming breath, wishing she’d called to cancel their meeting. But it was too late. Hendrick had spotted her and waved her toward the secluded table. Two glasses of red wine sat on the glass surface, one half empty. Katrine could tell from the foggy sheen of his gaze that this glass wasn’t his first.
“Sweetheart, you look beautiful tonight. That new dress brings out the blue in your eyes.” He took her face in his hands and pressed his lips against hers. There was possession in his kiss, and a hunger she had come to know well.
“Sit, we will eat, and then take a walk along the river. It’s beautiful this time of year, don’t you think?” His voice was deep and throaty, and Katrine knew what he wanted.
Although Hendrick Schwartz was an officer in Hitler’s army and a wealthy man with a fine furnished apartment, he was also an outdoor enthusiast like none Katrine had known. No doubt he had in mind finding a secluded corner of the park and laying her down in the soft spring grass to take what they both had come to understand was rightfully his.
Katrine stared across the table at her lover. Though twenty years her senior, Hendrick, with his tall, thin frame and chiseled features, turned the heads of many beautiful women. He’d caught her attention, after all.
They’d met one of the first times she’d dared venture out with her new identification papers. Though Katrine now lived a thousand miles away from the village of her birth, and though she looked as Aryan as the women highlighted on Hitler’s posters promoting racial purity, she wasn’t used to being out in the open.
After a year of hiding, she’d walked out of her home that afternoon still longing for the safety of darkness. “People can hide better in a crowd than in the safest dark hole,” said the resistance worker who’d come up with the plan to “Germanize” any Jews who looked the part.
Katrine was riding the tram to the market in Brussels when the handsome officer sat down beside her. She answered his questions bluntly. Yes, she was new to the city, having recently taken a job as a nanny. No, she hadn’t had time to see much of the Belgian capital. Yes, she did have Sunday afternoons off. Before she realized what was happening, she found herself agreeing to a picnic in Parc de Laeken the next Sunday afternoon.
When Katrine told her protector about the invitation from a German officer, the woman had been pleased. “If you can fool him, you’ll fool them all. No one would dare question the girlfriend of a dedicated SS man.”
Now, mere months later, she not only hated herself for falling in love with the handsome soldier, but for tying herself to him through this child—their child. She picked up her wine glass, swished it, then set it back down, her eyes focusing on the grouted lines of the tiled table.
Hendrick took her hand in his. “What is it, darling? Your favorite song is playing, and you didn’t even comment. Are you ill? We don’t have to go for a stroll tonight, after all. Perhaps we can return to my apartment, and I can rub your feet.” Hendrick winked at her. “I told you, you shouldn’t work so hard. Are the Pfizer children acting up again?”
“Hendrick, I’m pregnant.” The words escaped her lips, and Katrine lowered her head, unwilling to meet his gaze. She’d been meaning to wait. To find the right time, the right words.
Although she hated what she was, Hendrick’s mistress, what scared her even more was the thought of being alone, forced to raise a child on the little income she made.
“Pregnant?” Hendrick rose and swept her into his arms. “Yes! A child. My child.” His voice rose and his laughter echoed in the room. He spun her around once and set her down gently in her chair. Then he lowered his face toward hers and placed a dozen soft kisses across her forehead, acting as if they were the only two people there.
“A child. My child!” he repeated, louder.
With trembling fingers, Katrine pushed back the stray curls that had escaped from her pinned-up hair. “You’re happy?” Her eyes searched his.
“Happy? I’m overjoyed. No, jubilant!”
“But what of your . . . wife?” Katrine mouthed the last word rather than speaking it aloud.
Hendrick laughed again and sat back down. “Oh, sweet Katrine, you think she does not know? I am with you nearly every day of the week. Our picnics, the gifts.” He took a long drink of wine. “Oh, my naïve girl, this is a new Germany. A land of innovative ideals. Haven’t you heard Himmler himself: ‘All women might not have the opportunity to become wives, but all should have the chance to become mothers.’ My darling, I’ve given you that chance. And you, my dear, will give me the son I long for.”
Mary Kelley sprinted down Sixth. The soles of her black-and-white saddle shoes barely touched the littered sidewalk as she wove through the crowd with the same urgency as when she was ten and Mr. Stein chased her, broom in hand, after she’d stolen a pack of gum from his corner grocery.
Only this time she was running to something, not away. For if she got the scoop today—the true story from the senator concerning the future of veterans’ benefits—then she’d really be going places. Away from her past as the illegitimate, big-dreaming daughter of a cleaning woman. Away from the gangly girl who’d lived her whole life dreaming of escape from the tight-knit German neighborhood in which the home country wasn’t simply missed, but rather revived in the New York streets with an abundance of sausage, beer, and song.
The dense crowd slowed Mary’s steps, and she noted that the entourage of black sedans had nearly made it to the corner. If she didn’t hurry, the senator would slip inside the hotel before Mary could get a chance to speak to her.
“Excuse me, sir. Pardon, ma’am.” Mary straightened her pleated black skirt and white blouse, then reached into her small satchel and pulled out two pink ribbons. She quickly parted her hair and formed two ponytails. Then she stuck a pencil behind her ear, clutched a composition notebook to her chest, and made her way through the mass of journalists already forming a semicircle at the end of the parade route. “Excuse me. May I squeeze in? Thanks so much.”
The crowd parted, body by body, until Mary had made her way to the front of the line.
Two black cars were just pulling up. Shiny Rolls-Royces with tinted windows, looking as if they’d just rolled off the assembly line. They parked in front of the Wall Street hotel where a press conference would be held tomorrow. Yet somehow news of the senator’s early arrival had leaked out, drawing lines of veterans, educators, and others who wanted either to bend the senator’s ear or get an early scoop.
Mary cocked her head to get a view of the occupants, but a wide man with a suit coat that smelled of cigar, sweat, and ink blocked her view. He stepped back and nearly bowled her over.
The tall, lean reporter standing next to Mary spoke up in her defense. “Hey, Mac, stop getting so pushy, will you? You most knocked o’er the girl here.”
Mac, or rather Chester McWilliams, reporter from the Times, hardly gave her a second glance. “That’s no girl. It’s Mary Kelley from the Sentinel. Sorry, Mare, the schoolgirl gag isn’t going to work this time.”
“Wanna bet?” With a duck and a leap, Mary dodged under Chester’s arm and slid her thin form between the two yellow-and-white-striped barricades.
A security guard approached with quickened steps. “Sorry, miss. Can’t let you pass.”
She slunk back as he gently wrapped a hand around her arm.
“But, mister, I promised I’d get this interview. What am I gonna tell my teacher if I don’t? I mean, I only need five minutes.” She twirled one of her ponytails between her fingers and smiled. “Please?”
“Let her through,” called a voice.
Mary turned her head to see a woman climbing from the stretch limo.
“What are you doing manhandling a young woman like that? You’re lucky I don’t take down your name.”
The woman walked over and motioned the security guard out of the way, then cradled Mary’s elbow. “I already promised an interview to the daughter of a friend, but I appreciate your interest and spunk. If you behave yourself, I’ll let you sit in.”
The senator led Mary through the front doors of the lobby, then turned and paused. As if on cue, the door to the second limo opened, and a tall, attractive young woman climbed out. Dressed as impeccably as the senator herself, she slid from the passenger’s seat, smoothing her sky blue suit with manicured fingers.
“Lee O’Donnelly. I should have known,” Mary whispered, hugging her notebook tighter to her chest.
“So you know her?” The senator straightened her collar. “Of course you do. I hear from her father she’s only been away from Vogue for a few months and has already made a splash in city reporting. I just love women with gumption.”
Lee approached, offering a bright smile to the doorman, who opened the glass door wide for her entrance. Her heels clicked on the polished lobby floor, and gold bracelets jingled on her wrist. Lee smiled at the senator, but the look faded when she noticed Mary. One lone eyebrow jutted up as if to say What are you doing here?
Mary stepped forward before Lee could say a word. “Miss O’Donnelly, so nice to see you. I read your column every day and find myself in awe of the extent of your family connections. And here you are again. I was invited to join in. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Mind? Of course not. Any friend of the senator is a friend of mine.” She placed a hand on the senator’s shoulder. “Or should I call you Lovey?” Lee’s lips curled in a coy grin.
“Your mother told you, didn’t she?” The senator laughed. “I made her swear not to breathe a word of my nickname . . . and you look so much like her, dear. Being in your presence takes me back twenty years.” The senator hurried through the lobby and toward the lounge, her arm entwined with Lee’s.
Takes me back too. Mary felt twelve years old again. Find a corner and sit in it. Not a peep, remember?
“You coming, dear?” the senator called back over her shoulder. “No time to dawdle. As Lee here can tell you, reporters must not only keep up, but blaze the trail if necessary.”
“Coming!” Mary quickened her steps to reach the senator’s side, but it didn’t change anything. She was just a tagalong, allowed to come along for the ride. Just as she’d always been.
School had been out for two weeks, and the thought of spending another day in their stuffy apartment alone while her mother worked was enough to cause twelve-year-old Mary to resort to begging.
She could hear the stirring in the Heinzes’ kitchen, just on the other side of theirs. The odor of Cousin Velma’s spicy sausage, onion, and eggs nearly caused her stomach to heave. Hadn’t the woman ever heard of pancakes? And if she had to spend one more day listening to the constant playing of German folk songs—
As if on cue, the phonograph started up. Mary pressed her hands to her ears as the familiar voice sang. Jetzt kommt die fröliche. Sommerszeit, die. Stunden voller Lust und Wonne . . .
Her mother hummed from the next room, then joined in. Her mom’s soft voice was much prettier than the German lady’s husky one.
Yes, begging was definitely worth a try.
Mary walked to their bedroom and sat on the rumpled covers, watching as her mother applied her makeup. “Mom, do you have to go to work today? Can’t we go to the park or the zoo? It’s such a nice day outside.”
“You know I have to work. The guys wouldn’t know what to do without me picking up their carbon and sweeping their ashes. And you want to have a new outfit when school starts again, don’t you?”
Though Mary’s father wasn’t around—never had been—her mother had faced every obstacle in their path with rolled-up sleeves, a cocked jaw, and a narrow gaze that Mary was sure even President Roosevelt himself would back down from.
She crossed her arms. “Then let me come with you. I’ll be good. I’ll just sit in a corner and watch the reporters work. They won’t even know I’m there, I promise.”
“You don’t understand. It’s more complicated than that. . . .” Her mother looked out the window, pressing her lower lip between her teeth.
“Ple-ease. If I’m not good, I’ll never ask again.” She held her breath.
Finally her mother nodded, as if coming to some resolution within herself. Then she stood and placed her hands on her hips. “All right then. Get your shoes and run a comb through your hair. But don’t be whining halfway through the day if you’re bored.”
They hurried out of the apartment. Her mother glanced at her watch, then took Mary’s hand, leading her through the busy streets toward the large office buildings downtown.
Mary didn’t say a word. She knew that if the wrong thing escaped her lips, her mother would send her back to the thin walls, smelly cooking, and German music.
Thirty minutes later, they approached the Sentinel building. Her mother stopped and turned to her. “Don’t speak unless you’re spoken to. Just find a corner and sit in it.”
Outside the newsroom she paused once more, straightened Mary’s collar, and stepped back, obviously satisfied. “Remember, not a peep.”
Mary nodded. Even from the other side of the closed door, she could hear the curious rhythm of fingers pounding on typewriter keys. They stepped inside, and she was met by a bustling scene of white-collared men in motion, of words and confusion, black ink and white paper. Some men sat at long wooden desks, pounding their fingers against typewriter keys. Others leaned against the wall near the stand-up telephones, taking notes. And some hunched over semi-circular desks that read COPY in bold letters on the front. These men wore green shades over their eyes and seemed intent on the white papers spread before them. One man was so round, Mary didn’t understand why the wooden chair didn’t break under him. Another tall man sat sideways because he couldn’t fold his long legs under the desk.
Mary didn’t know any of them or their various roles. But her heart pounded as fast as the typewriter keys, with rising excitement and expectation.
The young woman’s mouth opened wide, a cry bursting from her lips as Hendrick plunged the lethal injection into the white flesh of her breast, stabbing it into her heart. The needle slid deep, and Hendrick released its contents, then stood back to wait. In a matter of seconds the poison would take effect. He had performed the task a hundred times before. He’d witnessed the way death washed over a body—frantic movements soon stilling—as the feeble soul slipped away.
A group of men circled behind him, chosen officers of purification. They waited in anticipation, prepared to learn from the master, the expressions of their faces a mix of horror and thrill.
Yet still the mouth remained open. The screams continued.
A hand grasped Hendrick’s shoulder. “It’s happening again. You must stop her.”
Hendrick reached for the woman’s mouth, attempting to cover it with his hand, but she would not be silenced. Die, you must die.
It wasn’t a joyous task, but one of necessity. Only valued life deserved the Fatherland’s valuable resources, and this dim-witted female was not worthy. She continued to struggle. Then her face washed out in a stream of bright, white light.
“Hendrick, wake up! The child, she screams in her sleep. You brought her here. You silence her.”
His eyes adjusted to the brightness, and he realized he was in his family home, on the outskirts of Brussels. It was Onna, his wife, lying wide-eyed next to him. And the screams—they filtered in from the room attached to theirs. The ornate door did little to muffle the cries.
They’re the screams of a child, he realized. Yet their intensity was the same.
“Curse you, woman. I thought you found a nanny for her. I’m tired of these late-night episodes.”
“It’s Magie’s day off. What do you expect? You said—”
His look silenced her.
Hendrick jumped from the bed, slid on his satin robe, and strode across the room, still attempting to push the feebleminded woman’s face from his mind’s eye. Was she one of the hundreds he’d disposed of in his duty of carrying out the required ethnic cleansing? Had her face somehow become imprinted on his conscience? Hendrick wasn’t sure, but he refused to allow guilt to accuse his honored work.
Taking a deep breath, he stopped just short of the door and allowed his heartbeat to settle. He closed his eyes and pictured the angelic face, the wide blue eyes, the blonde curls. This was the second child he’d chosen. Aryan blood reclaimed from Polish soil.
“Poor thing, what nightmares she must have from her past life,” Hendrick muttered as he pushed the door open. Soon, he knew, the girl would adjust to her new destiny—just as her sister had. Soon the nightmares would cease.
“Stella,” he whispered, his bare feet sinking into the plush carpet of the room. A shaft of light angled through the doorway onto his new daughter’s face and outstretched arms. With three steps, Hendrick was at her side. He sat upon her bed and pulled her close.
“Papa, Papa, Papa,” she cried in his ear. He pulled her tighter, allowing her four-year-old frame to fold into his.
“Shhh, Papa is here. All is well, my Stella. All is well.” Hendrick patted her back, but at his words the girl’s body stiffened. Her cries stopped, and with a small gasp she pulled back from his arms.
“Papa is here,” he repeated.
Stella pushed against his chest and shook her head. “No,” she whispered. Her blue eyes darted, glancing around the pink and lace room with the same horror as the woman in his dreams.
“Papa is here.” Hendrick’s voice rose, growing in strength. He laid Stella back on her white cotton sheets. “I will not let them take you back, child. Close your eyes and rest now.”
She shivered, and he tucked the blankets tight under her chin.
“Sleep now. Sweet dreams, Stella.”
Even in the dim light, he could see her squeeze her lids tighter.
“Good girl. Good, obedient child.” He patted the top of her blonde head, yet still her shoulders trembled. He leaned over to the lamp on the nightstand and flipped it on. Golden light cascaded over the bed and her small frame. “It is the darkness that scares you,” he whispered, wondering if she understood his German words. “It will be better in the morning.”
Hendrick returned to bed to find Onna curled to her side—her back to him—pretending to sleep. He slid into the sheets beside her and curved his body next to hers. Though arousal stirred within his flesh, he refused to let himself give in. It was Onna’s fault, after all, that the child in the next room was not of his blood. It was her body that refused to provide children—the pride of every officer of the Reich.
Sweet Katrine, he thought, wishing it were her within his sheets tonight. Katrine is giving me the child I so desire. Even now my blood pumps through the heir of the Reich growing in her womb.
“Sweet Katrine,” he whispered. Onna’s body stiffened in his arms, but Hendrick didn’t care. “It is she who will give us our child,” he said louder, tightening his grasp. “It’s a name you should love as much as I, my dear. For through her my strength will live on.”
Though the quartet in the foyer was practicing one of her favorite melodies, Lee O’Donnelly wasn’t in any hurry to go downstairs and greet guests. She had thoughts of deadlines and finding the next big story on her mind.
She sighed as her pink satin robe slid off her shoulders, folding into a puddle on the marble floor. With quick movements, she pinned her shoulder-length hair to the top of her head and stepped into the water, drawn and awaiting her arrival. It was the perfect temperature and scented with lavender. Jane always prepared it right.
Thank goodness for good help.
Lee sank deeper into the warmth, leaned against the cushioned headrest, and closed her eyes.
Thank goodness for middle-of-the-day baths to melt away the tension.
She had barely been at the newsroom two hours when her mother called the office, reminding her of the afternoon tea and charity event with two dozen of their family’s closest friends. The Queen of the Known World, as Lee referred to her mother behind her back, had demanded her daughters attend. Demanded, not asked. As if they were still children who must obey her every whim.
The music’s volume rose, and Lee visualized the upbeat notes climbing the polished, winding staircase and sliding under her door, seeking her out in the deep recesses of her private bath and urging her to put on a happy face.
Music meant parties. And parties meant people. Rich people. Arrogant people. People who lived as if this worldwide war didn’t affect them in the least. People who instead expected one to smile and entertain with witty and complimentary conversation.
Yesterday, before heading to the tailor’s for a fitting of a new Dior dress, Lee had scanned the guest list. More money would be assembled on their patio this afternoon than was held in the Bank of New York. Close friends indeed.
She allowed her arms to float to the top of the water, determined to relax and take her time. After thirty minutes, her fingertips began to shrivel, and she expected Jane—in black uniform and white cap—to arrive with a summons.
Sure enough, not five minutes later a soft knock sounded.
“Jane, tell Mother to go ahead and start without me. It’s been a hard day at the office.”
“I’m not the help,” a husky female voice said through the door, “but I was sent up to urge you to hurry.”
The door swung open, and a leggy brunette entered. A flattering fuchsia dress clung to her sister’s frame. Though two years older, Rondi looked enough like Lee that people often thought they were twins.
Lee continued to soak as her sister perched herself on the marble countertop and lit a cigarette. She flicked a red-painted toe at her sister, splashing a spray of water but carefully missing. “Dad will kill you if he discovers those hideous things in the house. He just paid a fortune to have the drapes cleaned, remember?”
Rondi let a thin trail of smoke curl from her lips and grinned. “I’m sorry, Lenora, but I’m not the one in the hot seat today. I’m afraid it’s your rear firmly planted on Daddy’s bad side. But at least you’re giving Roger a break.”
“Yes, well, next time I see him, I’ll encourage our dear brother to write a thank-you note.” Lee rose from the water, stepping over the satin robe and reaching for the white cotton one hanging on the wall hook. “I don’t understand why Daddy isn’t over it. I thought after seeing my byline on the front page a few times, he’d be willing to give me some slack.”
“Could it be, one, he hates reporters? Two, his shining hope for the future, our brother, turned his back on the family business to work as one. Or three, his darling daughter left a reputable establishment to do the same.”
Lee sighed. “It was either a new career or death from mo-notony. What was I supposed to do?”
“He’s not going to back down on this one, Lee. Where do you think you got your strong will from? At least we know you’re not the child of the milkman.” Rondi laughed. “And I actually think he’s even more upset today than he was three weeks ago. After all, the whole city now knows it’s Marvin O’Donnelly’s daughter bucking the system, attempting to do a man’s job.”
“Attempting? More like succeeding.” Lee cinched the cotton belt around her waist, patted her neck with a plush hand towel, and then released the clip holding up her hair. Dark, thick strands fell on her shoulders. “My reputation precedes me, and my editors are coming to understand that I indeed have all the right connections.”
Rondi took one more puff, then turned on the sink faucet and ran her cigarette underneath.
Lee smirked as her sibling walked to the bathroom window and opened it wide, waving her hand to dissipate the smoke.
Rondi sighed. “So you have your name on the front page. But is it really worth it? It’s not like you didn’t have a good job at Vogue. And just think of all the fringe benefits you gave up—lavish parties, fascinating interviews, generous gifts . . . a smile on Daddy’s face.”
Lee strode out of the bathroom and to her wardrobe, opening it wide to discover her chiffon rose-hued dress pressed and waiting. To most women such a garment would be a luxury beyond imagining; to her it was just another evidence of being trapped in an archaic system dictated by her parents.
“I’ve had it with his hardheadedness.” Lee dressed hastily. “I want to do more with my life than give socialites tips on the best places to look for designer labels in patriotic shades of red, white, and blue. There’s a war going on, for goodness’ sake, with men fighting and dying. What about reporting that?”
Rondi glanced in the vanity mirror and then pinched her cheeks to give them more color. From the look on her sister’s face, Lee was sure Rondi would rather be pinching her.
With a final sigh and shake of her pretty head, Rondi stalked toward the door. She paused at the threshold. “Well, there’s no war in New York, but your family is here. Think about that.
Because sometimes harmony in the home is more important than one person’s crazy dreams. Sometimes striking out solo just isn’t worth it, sister.”