Tracy Hubbard, an up-and-comer at a prestigious New York City publisher, has arrived at a sprawling villa on the Bosporus strait in Istanbul for an enviable arrangement. She’s come to assist celebrated artist Miles Radburn with his new book on the history of Turkish art. Everything Tracy has heard about the man turns out to be true: He’s brooding, handsome, brilliant, short-tempered, and loath to discuss the tragic secrets of his past. But the young editor is keeping a secret of her own . . .
Tracy’s position at the villa is a charade. It was here, six months ago, that her sister, Anabel, spent the last days of her life. Somewhere, among the conspiratorial staff, nocturnal visits from furtive strangers, and cold dark corridors, is hidden the mystery of Anabel’s death. And as each new clue leads Tracy closer to Miles, a man she has come to both love and fear, she realizes she could be heading toward the same inevitable and chilling fate.
Hailed by Time magazine as “one of the best” in the gothic romance field that included Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt, Phyllis A. Whitney was the recipient of the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement.
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Phyllis A. Whitney including rare images from the author’s estate.
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About the Author
Whitney resided in several places, including New Jersey. She traveled to every location mentioned in her books in order to better depict the settings of her stories. She earned the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master award in 1988, the Agatha in 1990, and the lifetime achievement award from the Society of Midland Authors in 1995. Whitney was working on her autobiography at the time of her passing at the age of 104.
Read an Excerpt
Below high balconies that formed a veneer for the huge American hotel, the newer part of the city dropped steeply away to the shores of the Bosporus. A mosque at the water's edge, its whiteness diluted by gray March rain, pointed minarets into the sky — an indication of Istanbul. Otherwise the view was blandly modern and bore little resemblance to the Turkey of Tracy's lively imagination.
She stood on her private balcony, looking down through driving rain at the city she had been trying to reach. Now, all in one breath, she found herself both eager for the encounter and a little fearful over what it might hold for her. Where once her coming might have been a simple, joyful thing, now there were too many troubling questions in her mind. Whether she wished it or not, they removed her from the casual objectivity of the tourist, and brought with them an involvement she could not avoid.
An involvement, in fact, that she had deliberately chosen. She had moved quickly to seize the opportunity that had brought her here and she must not be turned back by the first obstacle.
With a quick, impatient gesture she pulled off the blue suede beret she had bought for this trip and let wind from the strait ruffle her shining fringe of brown bangs. That the wind carried with it a splash of rain, she did not mind. She raised her face to the cold drops as if they might quench her angry reaction to the letter she held in her hand. Clearly a cool head would be needed if she was to deal with the man who had written it. She was curious about him and not at all certain how many of the tales she had heard about him were true, but she did not mean to be summarily dismissed by his letter.
She had waited three months to get here. Waited because there was no way for her to come at once. Now that she was here — arrived at the airport this very afternoon — she was to be sent home ignominiously and without a hearing. The sheet of notepaper crackled sharply as she straightened it and read for the third time the strongly formed masculine handwriting.
Dear Miss Hubbard:
The arrangement I agreed to with Mr. Hornwright of Views was to the effect that Miss Janet Baker would be sent here to assist me in preparing the manuscript of my book for publication. Her years in the Middle East, her well-established background and knowledge of Turkish mosaics, have made her a suitable person for this work.
Now I have a cable informing me that she will not be free for another six months and that a temporary assistant is being sent in her place: "A young woman who has been doing excellent work for us during the past years."
I can only assure you that this substitution is not acceptable to me. I prefer to wait for Miss Baker. While there is nothing of personal criticism implied on my part, I can only suggest that you take the next plane back to New York.
Sincerely yours, Miles Radburn
Tracy folded the stiff sheet of paper. One part of her mind whispered that it would be easy enough to accept this edict. Surely no one in the home office could blame her for a defeat which was so clearly not of her own making. If she went straight home she could turn her back on all she might find disturbing about Istanbul — simply go home and forget the plea and the warning that had come to her, forget the persistent questions that presented themselves to her mind. Let the past keep its unhappy secrets, since she could not now affect the course of destiny.
Yet even as she considered the cajoling voice, she knew that if she turned and ran she would never forgive herself later. Again she folded the paper, creasing it emphatically. She would not permit the letter to anger her. She would keep an open mind about Miles Radburn. She could not know what was true about him and what was not until she had met him herself. His reaction to her coming was, of course, not unexpected. And in all fairness, it might even be justified.
Mr. Hornwright had been thoroughly upset when he came home from Turkey. Miles Radburn's book on the history of Turkish tiles and mosaics would be an expensive art number for the book publishing venture on which Views was recently embarked. The tremendous resources that had made the magazine one of the foremost in the country were behind the venture, and the name of Miles Radburn would bring prestige to the list. While it was true that Radburn, after a conspicuous rise to success in his younger years, had done little painting in his late thirties, nevertheless his portraits were in museums and art galleries around the country, and there was still a distinction to his name that spelled good publicity for Views. Unfortunately, artists were seldom skilled organizers. Mr. Hornwright, on his visit to Istanbul, had been appalled by the welter in which a possibly important book was buried.
Radburn had reluctantly agreed to accept assistance if he could have the help of Miss Baker, whose work he knew. Mr. Hornwright, procrastinating and treading water, had promised to see what could be managed. In her work as a researcher trainee, Tracy was in a position to hear the rumors going around. Mr. Hornwright had known very well that Miss Baker was otherwise occupied, and he knew as well that Miles Radburn was not ready for her at this point. What Radburn needed was not an expert on Turkish mosaics, but someone efficient enough to straighten out the general confusion in which he seemed to be working.
Once she knew what was in the wind, Tracy had not hesitated. She had gone to see Mr. Hornwright, plunging at once to the heart of the matter. She had pointed out that she was more expendable than almost anyone else in the department. Yet she felt herself equipped to do the job he wanted done. By good chance she had already completed two or three minor assignments for Mr. Hornwright, and he at least knew of her existence.
He smiled at her eagerness, not without sympathy. "How old are you, Miss Hubbard?"
"I'll be twenty-three this month," she told him with dignity.
"Hmm. Still young enough not to know the impossible when you see it. An advantage, perhaps. Though it's quite likely Radburn will decide to send you home the moment he lays eyes on you. What will you do then?"
"If I can get there, I'll stay," Tracy promised resolutely. Because nothing had ever come to her easily, there was an intensity about her that could be persuasive when she threw herself into something she really wanted.
Mr. Hornwright must have sensed this, for he considered her thoughtfully. "At least you're anxious to go. But if I send you, we'll have to move fast. We need to get you out there before he has time to oppose the plan. In fact, we won't let him know you're coming till you're on your way."
"I can leave as soon as you like," she said. "I already have an up-to-date passport." She did not add that it was unused and only a few months old.
There was still hesitation on Mr. Hornwright's part. "I don't know ... Radburn won't like the switch. His mother was an American and he's lived here a good part of his life, but all the stubborn British half of him will rise up in protest. He has a remarkable trick of putting himself on the far side of a stone wall — with the other fellow out in the cold."
"If I can get there, I'll stay," Tracy repeated. She could be stubborn too. There were times when she thought that was the only reliable quality she possessed — a perverse stubbornness. She would reserve judgment about Miles Radburn, and she would not let him frighten her. She would hook her thumbs into her belt, dig in her toes — and stay.
"Good," said Mr. Hornwright. "I like that kind of dogged spirit. But don't come crying to me if you run into that wall. If you go out there, you can't afford to fail. You might lose us the book altogether. A contract isn't enough to assure that he'll come up with the finished product. He's dragging his heels and you can ride herd on him, for one thing. You understand?"
"I understand," said Tracy.
"Then get started," Mr. Hornwright told her. She flew to the door, but he stopped her as she went through. "One more thing. If you know anything about Radburn's work, go easy on the painting angle. He's touchy about not working. He hasn't painted since a year or so before the death of his wife. You know, of course, about his recent tragedy?"
"I know," Tracy said. "I'll be careful," and she went down the corridor as if a stormy wind blew at her heels, whirling her along like a leaf.
The same wind whirled her breathlessly through two or three crowded days of preparation and briefing. It had whirled her into quick shopping for necessities and the suffering of shots. It had, at length, hurled her at headlong rate over ocean and continent, and set her down on this high, windy balcony, where she stood with Miles Radburn's dismissal in her hands — his decree that she was to turn around at once and go straight home before she had so much as caught her breath upon arrival.
She left the balcony and retreated to her room. On the bed table the telephone sat silent, waiting. She went instead to the full-length mirror on the bathroom door and regarded herself critically. What would Miles Radburn see if she presented herself to him?
There were five feet, one inch of girl in the mirror. A girl with glossy, well-brushed brown hair worn in a smooth twist at the back of her head. Only the bang fringe went loose and unpinned. Her mouth was too big and her nose doubtful. Her eyes, beneath thick lashes, were warm-gray, not cold-gray, and their expression always betrayed any intensity of inner feeling, of eagerness and excitement, or sometimes indignation that she might be experiencing. The charcoal-gray wool dress she wore was severe of line and simple of cut, and Tracy cocked one dark eyebrow in mocking amusement as she considered it. She had made that dress herself, as she made most of her own clothes. She was good at this sort of thing — very good. Some of the smart women at Views had even asked where she shopped.
Someday, she thought, staring at her image rebelliously; she was going to break that plain neckline with loops of wildly colored beads. She was going to run amok with bright scarves and jewelry and furbelows to her heart's content and be as thoroughly fussy and feminine as she pleased. Today just two ornaments broke the overall severity — a stitched leather belt with a gold buckle, and a simple pin near the neckline. The pin curved gracefully in the shape of a golden feather and she touched it now for reassurance before she once more hooked her thumbs into her belt. The pin was an old friend.
At least she recognized her slightly defiant, toes-in stance and smiled because it went with the gesture of thumbs hooked into the leather belt. She knew what it meant. The stubbornness and determination she could count on were there. She had dug in her toes. She was staying.
Having accepted the fact, the next step was to get herself to where Miles Radburn was. She went to the telephone and lifted the receiver. The switchboard operator spoke English. Tracy gave her the name of Mrs. Sylvana Erim, and spelled out a town full of y's and k's that she could not pronounce. The Erim name seemed to mean something and before long a distant ringing began.
"A widow," Mr. Hornwright had told her. "A Frenchwoman in spite of her Italian first name, who married a Turk and still makes her home in Turkey. Quite wealthy and socially prominent. Radburn and his wife first met her on their honeymoon in Turkey some years ago. Apparently she has furnished a haven for him while he works on this book. He's staying at her villa in a suburb across the Bosporus. If anything goes wrong, talk to Mrs. Erim. She's a civilized woman in the European sense. Very charming. And she gets things done. Remarkably unexcitable for a Frenchwoman."
A voice came on the wire, the words Turkish.
"I wish to speak to Mrs. Erim," Tracy said.
There was a silence that lasted so long Tracy began to think she had been cut off. Then a feminine voice spoke in her ear. A not unfriendly voice, pronouncing English with a French accent.
"This is Sylvana Erim."
Tracy identified herself.
"Ah, yes — you have been sent from the American publisher to assist with Mr. Radburn's book?"
"That's right," Tracy said. "I would like to see Mr. Radburn as soon as it can be arranged."
"But I have understood that a letter has been sent to your hotel," the cultured voice went on.
"I have the letter," Tracy admitted. "It tells me to go home. But I don't want to leave without at least speaking with Mr. Radburn."
There was a thoughtful pause and then a regretful, slightly amused sound. "But of course you wish to see him after coming such a distance. Sometimes he is like a bear — that one. Let us see what we can do. I will consider for a moment."
Again there was silence while Mrs. Erim considered and Tracy relaxed a little. She had a feeling that if this woman chose to help, her way would be smoothed.
The wait was not long. "As it happens, you have come at an opportune moment," Mrs. Erim continued. "My sister-in-law, Nursel — Miss Erim — is in the city this afternoon. I know where to reach her. I will ask her to pick you up at your hotel in an hour and drive you here to the yali. Bring a suitcase — you must stay for the night."
Mrs. Erim waited for no thanks, waited hardly for agreement, before ringing off. One had the impression of calm force and authority at work. Mr. Hornwright had been correct.
Tracy put down the telephone and proceeded to tear Miles Radburn's letter into very small scraps and drop them into the wastebasket. The small violent movement did her good. He was not going to send her home. There was more at stake than Mr. Hornwright had any knowledge of. In fact, if he had guessed her own concern in this, he might not have let her come. She could only hope that no one else would guess it either. In an odd way she would be incognito here, while using her own name. It was better to have no one suspect her real secret. She could find out more this way, with no one on guard against her.
What a long way Turkey seemed from the Midwestern town where she had grown up. Though not as far as New York had been a few years ago when she had taken matters into her own hands, opposing the wishes of her parents. What warnings of disaster had rung in her ears! But she had found a job in New York. Then another job. There had been sadness over her mother's death, but not deep sorrow. She had lost all real touch with her mother long before. An estrangement with her father had continued and could not be helped.
Two years ago she had found this most fascinating of all places to work — Views. She had always wanted a finger in the creation of magazines and books. So far, it was a very small finger, but if she made good at this assignment with Miles Radburn, there was no end to the possibilities. Even more important, if she succeeded, she would be able to prove that Tracy Hubbard was someone in her own right, after all. Prove it to her father, to the world — and most of all to herself.
But she did not want to dredge up the past now. Not when she had just reached Istanbul. First she must see Mrs. Erim. One deliberate step at a time would keep her here.
She returned to the balcony and stood for a while looking down at the city that bore slight resemblance to the Istanbul she had read about. She had seen only a little more of it on the drive from the airport through the old city. Once within crumbling Roman walls, rain had obscured its outlines. She had been aware of the tight, cobbled streets of the old Stamboul section, slippery with mud; of erratic traffic in the narrow ways, and crowds of pedestrians, rainy-day-shabby, not unlike such crowds in any city anywhere. Of course Istanbul was not Turkey, any more than New York was America, she reminded herself. It was an entity in its own right, and not easily to be learned in all its complexities.
The hour was difficult to pass. She powdered her nose and repaired her lipstick. One step at a time was all she needed to manage.
Then the phone rang, announcing that Nursel Erim awaited her in the lobby. Tracy threw her gray coat about her shoulders, picked up her suitcase and handbag, and walked the miles of soft-carpeted corridor to the elevator bank.
Excerpted from "Black Amber"
Copyright © 1964 Phyllis A. Whitney.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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