The new book from award-winning romance novelist Hannah Fielding A story of love, intrigue and redemption The third book in her sweeping Andalucían Nights Trilogy
Summer, 2011 – A troubled young journalist goes undercover in Spain, and finds her loyalties tested when love and desire unearth secrets she hadn’t bargained for.
When Luna Ward, a beautiful ice-blonde graduate, is commissioned by a leading New York science journal to investigate the head of a Spanish alternative health clinic, she jumps at the chance. But her life becomes far more complicated once she meets the man she has been tasked to expose. Luna finds Rodrigo de Rueda Calderon to be a brilliant, outspoken oncology specialist with irresistible, dark gypsy looks and a devilish sense of humour. The pair are irrevocably drawn to each other, but how can she give herself up to a passion that threatens to topple all reason? And how could he ever learn to trust the person who has kept her identity from him, even though he has a terrible secret of his own?
The lovers unearth dark and brooding dramas in their family histories, binding them together in a web of intrigue that threatens to bring their lives toppling down.
Seven storeys below, the steady hum of mid-morning traffic underscored the fading brassy bellow of a fire truck. Not for the first time, Luna compulsively rearranged the papers on her desk into even neater piles, her gaze straying to the view outside, away from the words on her screen. The tall, arched windows of the converted nineteenth-century spice warehouse that was now the office of Scientific US magazine looked out over the smart Hudson Square neighbourhood of Lower Manhattan.
She didn’t like surprises. Her editor, Ted Vandenberg, had looked unusually cagey when he had asked to see her in his office in five minutes and now she was in a state of wary anticipation. Why had Ted been so frustratingly cryptic?
She glanced at her watch and adjusted the blind to let in a fresh breeze from the open window. In the distance, the New York skyline shimmered in soaring peaks of reflecting glass and steel. The glaring sunlight of this crisp, blue-skied, early-spring day was dazzling, as if designed to confront and amaze the onlooker with the cityscape it illuminated: a vertical poem of proud, titanic proportions.
But here, on the western shore of Manhattan Island, where the fresh waters of the Hudson River met the salt waters of New York Bay, nestled this charming neighbourhood, south of Greenwich Village, a tangle of lower, older buildings and crooked, tree-lined streets. Luna revelled in the chaotic sprawl of its brownstone apartments, bars and jazz clubs, bohemian bookstores and galleries, and how the city’s iconic wooden water towers perched on high rooftops like giant Chinese lanterns. There was something fascinating about its clusters of pedestrians packing every sidewalk, a steady stream of human traffic flowing like water around stones in a burbling brook. To her ears, the familiar sounds of the streets were just as pleasing: a background cacophony of buskers’ music mixed with the tooting horns of yellow taxi cabs and the rumbling of meatpacking vans making their way from the food markets and warehouses of Tribeca and the West Village to restaurants, stores and hotels.
The anonymity of the huge city suited Luna. New York was a place that made her feel comfortable, like a protective cloak offering to cocoon her within its noisy, bustling chaos. Yet for all its reassuring camouflage, sometimes she felt the elemental forces of life were overwhelming. Something inside her was as chaotic as the metropolis outside, bursting to get out, and she fought to contain it every day.
The dream had come again last night. She had woken suddenly, as she always did, clammy and panting, her deafening heartbeat thumping against her ribs, her own pleading voice echoing loudly in her ears. The nightmare hadn’t visited her for a while. She wondered if this time it had been triggered by the intense designer from the art department, who had asked her to have coffee with him; something about his hooded gaze, the intent expression … Luna remembered the panic that had rippled through her at his invitation and now she tried to throw off the feeling of unease that pressed on her mind, combining oppressively with her lack of sleep.
Distractedly, she pushed her long, blonde hair back behind her ears. She was twenty-five but nevertheless still did not feel like a grown woman. Instead, she was trapped in a world of dark, shadowy memories, isolated yet fearing the light. In many ways being alone was safe and so appealing. Why then did this gnawing feeling of restless emotion plague her? It smouldered quietly within her, threatening at any moment to become an all-consuming blaze. On top of that, there was Angelina … She missed her dreadfully.
‘Luna, let’s talk now, shall we?’
Jolted from her troubled thoughts, she looked up. A few feet away, Ted Vandenberg was standing in the doorway of one of the side offices on the open-plan floor. Short and rotund, with a shock of almost white hair, his bright blue eyes twinkled behind circular pale-rimmed spectacles. Half in conversation with a gangling male colleague who was shuffling papers back into a leather bag, he smiled and motioned her over.
‘Take a seat. I’ll be with you as soon as I’ve finished with Nate, here.’
Luna composed herself and nodded. ‘Sure. Thanks, Ted.’
She slipped past him into his office. Inside the frosted glass wall of her boss’s inner sanctum, bookcases ran along one exposed brick wall while framed photos lined the white-painted walls. Her eyes scanned the images: covers of old editions of the magazine dating back to the late nineteenth century, journalism awards, colourfully graphic science posters, and black-and-white photographs of famous scientists. Unlike Luna’s own pristine workspace, here papers littered every surface, and more books were stacked up on chairs or were arranged in precarious towers on the floor.
As Luna cleared a seat and sat down, she spied a folder on Ted’s large, antique mahogany desk and was startled to see her name on it. She glanced nervously back to the empty doorway, still hearing Vandenberg’s voice murmuring outside. Sheets of paper were spilling from the folder’s side and Luna half stood to take a closer look. The edge of the top page revealed a small profile picture of a dark-haired man wearing glasses. Tempted to get a better view of the folder’s contents, she stretched out an arm and had only got as far as touching the edge when the door creaked softly behind her.
‘“Curiosity is one of the most permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous intellect.” That’s what Samuel Johnson said. Astute man.’
‘I’m sorry?’ Luna said, returning to her seat hurriedly.
Ted Vandenberg walked behind his desk and sank into his chair, grinning at her. Beneath the tufts of white hair was a kindly face with a low brow, short nose and a broad mouth that was prone to break into a toothy smile, making him look somewhat like an animated turtle, Luna always thought. Full of energy, with a buoyant and congenial demeanour, he also had a sharp intellect that she appreciated. In fact, she liked Ted very much, despite his untidy habits and propensity to be late for meetings, qualities that usually irked her in other people.
She shifted in her chair, deliberately not glancing at the folder.
‘That’s what I like to see in a scientist,’ Vandenberg beamed, motioning towards the folder and pushing his glasses back up the bridge of his nose. ‘Curiosity. The best scientists and explorers are like five-year-old children. They never stop asking questions: “Who, what, where, why, when and how?” Curiosity is the well from which we scientists draw our
sustenance and energy, Luna, so don’t be afraid to use it.’ He raised his dark, bushy eyebrows. ‘I’ve always thought you had the makings of a first-rate investigative journalist actually. I’m getting ahead of myself, though … How long have you been with us now?’
‘Just over six months.’
What was he getting at? Was he about to say that she was unsuited to the work she’d been assigned? Luna’s large amber eyes studied his face for evidence of any disapproval but he simply smiled back with a similarly appraising look.
He stood up and moved towards a side cabinet. ‘Coffee?’
‘Yes, coffee would be good, thanks.’
Vandenberg poured steaming coffee from a chrome jug into two mismatched bone-china cups. ‘I took you on because, with first-class honours in Molecular Biology from Princeton, followed by an impressive PhD in Science Communication, you’re a scientist with perfect academic credentials. But it’s more than that. You’re bold, inquisitive and rigorous. In short, if you haven’t yet realized it, you’ve got all the makings of a topnotch science journalist. You were right not to go into research, far too restrictive for you. In the few months you’ve been here, I’ve become convinced you have the kind of investigative instincts I need.’
Luna flushed a little at the compliment, choosing not to say anything, but instead willing him to cut to the chase. Her eyes shone. This was it: the break she’d been longing for. Vandenberg handed her a cup and sat down. Clasping his hands together, he rested them on his ample stomach. ‘Now you know we credit ourselves with impeccable, unbiased research. I’ve been chewing on this for a few days, as I have a feeling, and I don’t want to speak out of turn here, that you have a personal interest in alternative cancer therapies, possibly even an axe to
grind, and this might not make you as unbiased as I’d have liked.’
At this, Luna tried to interrupt, but he raised a hand before continuing.
‘Having said that, Luna, I think a passionate and focused interest is exactly what makes a great article.’
He paused and though the office was cool he wiped his brow with his handkerchief in a habitual gesture. ‘We’re wanting a full-length feature done on The Institute for the Research of Natural Remedies, a not-for-profit organization based in Andalucía. I can tell by your face you’ve heard of it.’
Luna couldn’t help her eyes widening. Of course she had heard of it. Her cousin Angelina had been treated in a place like that in California before she died. At work Luna had always fiercely guarded her private life although she had confided in her boss somewhat when she’d asked for a few days’ compassionate leave to attend Angelina’s funeral. She pressed down her emotions and schooled her features into a look of casual attentiveness.
‘Well, good,’ Vandenberg continued. ‘The Institute is starting to hit the medical press in a big way, with its cutting-edge, although possibly questionable, use of some rather wacky herbal treatments, among other things.’
Luna couldn’t help interjecting: ‘I bet that’s been ruffling a few feathers at some of the pharmaceuticals.’
He smiled and gestured in agreement. ‘Indeed. I was talking about that very thing last night with a couple of big hitters in the business. One of those huge dinner parties in the Upper East Side that Professor Henderson throws for the Science Academy.’
For a moment he looked at her pensively, as if about to say something else.
‘Anyway, Luna, the guy that runs the operation at this Institute, who likes nothing better than thumbing his nose at Big Pharma cheeses, is the one I’d like you to investigate. He’s had all the orthodox medical training, though now he’s “gone bush”, you might say. Thing is, he’s got a brain the size of a bus and he talks a good game. Sounds very credible indeed, a powerful figure. A bit of a playboy too, by all accounts.’
‘What’s his name? Is that him?’ Luna pointed to the page spilling from the folder.
‘He’s called Dr. Rodrigo Rueda de Calderón. And yes, there’s some background info for you there too.’
Luna reached for the folder and pulled out the sheets, skimming through the three-page profile on top. It was difficult to tell much from the small photo: though he was clearly younger than she expected, the dark-haired man wearing glasses simply looked groomed and official – hardly the look of a playboy. At first glance the doctor’s qualifications and achievements on his
résumé appeared impressive.
‘So …’ Vandenberg looked at her directly, eyes twinkling. ‘Does this sound like your kind of thing? A bit of youthful ambition goes a long way in the world of undercover journalism. My instinct tells me you’ve got what it takes to put in the energy and legwork needed for an assignment like this.’
‘I would have to go to Spain?’
‘Yes, the clinic is in Cádiz. I understand you speak the language fluently too, which is a plus.’
‘For how long?’ Luna was already slightly queasy with trepidation. She hadn’t been back to Spain since she was a child and, even though she had fond memories of the country and its people, she had no desire to reacquaint herself with her Spanish relatives. That aside, there was also the subterfuge the assignment would necessarily entail. Would that sit comfortably with her? Yet this was an opportunity, in more ways than one, not to be dismissed lightly.
‘We were thinking of a month or so. Maybe more,’ affirmed Vandenberg. ‘We’ll apply for an unpaid internship for you, which shouldn’t be too difficult to secure. Get one of our contacts at Princeton to send over your résumé, so the Institute doesn’t find out that you’re working for us. The magazine will cover your expenses.’
Luna’s mind was already formulating the perspectives. ‘So you want a carefully researched exposé of the Institute and its charismatic, rebellious leader?’
‘I expect that’s what we’re looking at, yes.’ Vandenberg dropped two lumps of sugar into his coffee and stirred, regarding her. ‘Nothing that might discredit the magazine, though. Proper research.’
‘So you think there’s an added angle here? Pharma companies hacked off with a flaky treatment programme that’s stealing their media space?’
‘There might be a story there. I can’t believe the good doctor is affecting their revenues to any great extent.’
‘I’m presuming the medical establishment has been loudly dismissing his treatments as just another example of pseudoscience?’
‘Of course, but that doesn’t mean your article has to toe the party line. Like I said, unbiased.’ He sipped his drink and chuckled. ‘But no harm in adding a bit of spice to the pot, is there? In fact, your uncle was there last night at the dinner. He has a lot of cash tied up in his research and patents, as you can imagine. Doesn’t take kindly to the herb peddlers who try to pass him on the inside.’ He chuckled again. ‘Actually, it’s usually water off a duck’s back. These guys are normally small fry but there’s a rumour Dr Rueda de Calderón is raising money for trials, which means he might be on to something with one of his treatments. And, as you so rightly pinpointed just now, your uncle is downright ornery at all the press the doctor’s been getting.’
At the mention of her uncle, Luna’s face had become impassive, though her fingers tightened on the papers. She picked up her cup and tried to sound casual.
‘So what is Lorenzo doing in New York?’
‘He’s over from California for a few days before he heads off on his tour of Europe. Impressive man, Herrera. A lot of drive. It’s easy to see how he’s managed to make his pharma company the largest in Spain. He’s really started making his mark over here
too. Good luck to him.’
Luna took an overly large sip of coffee, wincing slightly as the heat scalded her tongue. ‘Yes, Uncle Lorenzo has always been single-minded in getting what he wants.’ That’s an understatement, she thought, glad that California was almost three thousand miles away.
She quickly changed the subject. ‘How long do you think it would take to get everything in place?’
A smile spread across Vandenberg’s face. ‘I’ve already made enquiries to fast-track an application to the Institute. You could be in Cádiz this time next week.’
Luna put her cup down carefully on the desk, then looked at him intently for a few moments.
‘Okay, Ted. I’ll do it.’
Hannah Fielding was born and grew up in Alexandria, Egypt. Her family home was a large rambling house overlooking the Mediterranean where she lived with her parents and her grandmother, Esther Fanous, who had been a revolutionary feminist and writer in Egypt during the early 1900s. Fluent in French, English and Arabic, Hannah’s left school at 18 and travelled extensively all over the world. Hannah met her husband in England and they lived in Cairo for 10 years before returning to England in 1989. They settled in Kent, bringing up two children in a Georgian rectory, surrounded by dogs, horses and the English countryside. During this time, Hannah established a very successful business as an interior designer renovating rundown cottages. With her children now grown up, Hannah now has the time to indulge in her one true passion, which is writing. Hannah has so far published four novelsall featuring exotic locations and vivid descriptions:Burning Embersset in 1970s Africa,The Echoes of Loveset in 1980s Venice,Indiscretionset in the 1950s andMasqueradeset in the 1970s, both set in Spain. Her romance novels are adored by readers all over the world.