From the authors of the best-selling series CHERRINGHAM
When Harry and Kat head south to the French Riviera, they look forward to dazzling parties, a shimmering sea, and wonderful food. But once they step off the legendary Paris-Nice train, Le Train Bleu, things start to be anything but restful. Asked to assist in a dangerous case of blackmail - they soon find that the streets and alleyways of the Cote d'Azur hide not only cafes and bistros...but also secrets and danger of a most deadly sort.
Co-authors Neil Richards (based in the UK) and Matthew Costello (based in the US), have been writing together since the mid-90s, creating innovative content and working on major projects for the BBC, Disney Channel, Sony, ABC, Eidos, and Nintendo to name but a few. Their transatlantic collaboration has underpinned scores of TV drama scripts, computer games, radio shows, and the best-selling mystery series Cherringham. Their latest series project is called Mydworth Mysteries.
1. A Sunset to Remember
Percy Porter climbed down onto the dusty platform of Cannes train station and stepped away from the hurrying crowds. He watched as station staff, busy with their flags and whistles, readied the train for its departure.
He tilted his white panama hat against the last of the evening sun, then leaned on his Malacca cane, hand firm on the silver grip.
Motionless, he took in every last detail of this wondrous evening: the distant snow-capped Alps; the black and white smoke billowing from the engine; the chattering crowds; the cooking aromas, wafting up from the town, mixing with the snatches of cigar smoke; the reddening sky to the west, and the rich blue above.
What bliss, he thought.
Then, as the train pulled away, steam puffing, wheels screeching, he turned and headed down into the maze of streets that led to the sea, the Croisette and his hotel.
Why did I never realise that life could be like this? he thought, as he ambled through the bustling streets, the warm evening air rich with smells, sights and sounds.
Why, in my fifty years on this earth, have I never known what it is to feel truly happy... till now?
Of course, he knew the answer to that question.
One word - and he smiled as he said it softly to himself.
He realised that his whole existence could be defined as life before Simone and now... life with Simone.
Before she'd entered his world, his days in England had been all grey cloudy skies, damp cobbled streets, and bitter winds. Noisy factories, bottling plants, smoke-filled boardrooms, bankers' drafts, industrial disputes.
Endless tins of tomato soup, egg-and-cress sandwiches, countless mugs of stewed tea.
More like a prison than a life.
And after his day of work? His evenings and weekends had been spent in silent suppers with his wife Alice in the gloomy drawing room of Nantwich Hall, the monotony broken only by occasional dull dinners with half the mayors of the north-west of England and their grim spouses; or polite afternoon teas with bland vicars, dim-witted aristocrats; and visits from Alice's snooty in-laws from the Home Counties, always moaning, criticising, complaining about something... anything.
What a fool he had been to live that life, when this life was so readily available to be lived.
Life with Simone.
A joyous and dreamlike existence in which the weather was so unbelievably pleasant, the food so much tastier, the colours brighter, the people charming, and every day was an impossibly fresh, new adventure. The beautiful Mediterranean always - quite simply - stunning.
He strolled now - past familiar cafés and shops - recognising waiters and regulars, exchanging cheery "bonsoirs" and "monsieurs". Finally, he reached the Croisette, the long tree-lined avenue that ran the length of the curved Cannes bay. He paused, tipped his hat, and smiled at a well-dressed young couple - their arms entwined, laughing - as if recognising like-souls, also under the spell of this wondrous place.
The couple smiled back - and he knew that they were in love and he guessed that they could, through some lovers' instinct, see that he, too, was truly, madly in love.
In love with Simone.
Just the thought of her... dizzying!
In love with her brown eyes, her knowing smile, her beautiful soft skin, her boundless energy, her crazy ideas, her serious thoughts, her gentle soul, her sinuous dancing, sublime singing, and - always - those brown eyes, gazing into his.
He looked down now along the Croisette, positively filled with elegant couples promenading before dinner. White horse-drawn coaches passed back and forth, the clomping of hooves sounding rhythmic with nearby palm trees swaying gently.
The sea had now turned a luminous green, and to the west, over the Esterel Mountains, the setting sun made the red earth there seem to blaze with colour, as if alive.
He looked east, down the Croisette, past his own hotel, the Carlton. If the Pointe Croisette and the harbour weren't in the way, he fancied he just might be able to see all the way down the coast to lovely Antibes, where, even now, Simone was surely lying on her silk-draped bed, sleeping gently, resting before dinner.
He smiled to himself, remembering that sweetly scented apartment from just an hour ago, that afternoon-warm bed.
Then, alarmingly - for a second - a harsh voice, unbidden. For a moment he thought it was the brittle tones of his wife Alice -her sharp voice a dagger in his heart.
He spun round, fearful that she might actually be there - but placed his hand against his chest in relief as he saw a bickering English couple march past, the husband staring miserably at the pavement, the line of children behind them, straight-backed, on best behaviour.
He laughed to himself again. How could it possibly be Alice? Alice wasn't due to come to the Riviera for another month.
No need to fear her appearance yet!
Yes. Plenty of time to work out an amicable solution to this miraculous about-turn his life appeared to have taken.
Hmm, I must take some time to figure out how to handle that, he thought.
But, feeling relieved that that moment hadn't yet come, he again looked down the promenade at the long line of elegant, white-stuccoed hotels.
Time for a sundowner, he thought.
And where better than the rooftop bar on that smart new hotel, the Martinez!
Yes, it was pricey. Extremely pricey! But, as Percy now knew (because darling Simone kept telling him), "Money is there to be spent - to be enjoyed, mon cheri!"
Off he strolled towards the dramatic Martinez Hotel, facing the now-darkening Med, wondering which of their new-fangled cocktails he should try this evening, and already contemplating whether to have the salt-baked bass or the lobster for dinner.
Three hours later, and feeling rather tipsy - though who cares? - he spun through the revolving doors of his hotel, the Carlton (twice round, once more for fun!) and crossed the empty marble-floored vestibule to reception.
"Monsieur Porter, bonsoir," said the night receptionist.
"Mon cher Gaston, my old friend, my rock of ages," said Percy stepping forward and leaning unsteadily against the reception, panama under one arm.
He beamed for a few seconds at the young man in the perfect suit, his lapel badge shining. "Wasn't it a beautiful sunset?"
"I'm sure it was, sir," said Gaston. "I hope sir has passed a pleasant day?"
"Oh, much more than pleasant," said Percy. He stepped back and did a full twirl. A pirouette - just like the one he had done this morning for Simone on the beach in Antibes. "My entire day was... delightful! Delicious! Superb! In fact, all of the above!"
"I am very happy for you, sir," said Gaston, and Percy saw him smile.
Always fun to try to get these young fellas to come out of their shells, he thought.
"Your key, sir?"
"Key?" said Percy. "But, Gaston, the night is yet young!"
Then he realised his head was beginning to swim a little (that last cognac, perhaps? A bit trop?) The thought of his bed growing more attractive by the second.
He swayed slightly as Gaston handed him his room key, on a giant tassel bigger than the ones on the curtains at Nantwich Hall.
"Oh! I nearly forgot," said Gaston. "There is mail for you, sir."
Percy frowned as he saw the receptionist retrieve a large brown envelope from the pigeonholes behind him, and hand it over.
He inspected the cover.
"To Monsieur P Porter. Personal and Confidential. Addressee only."
Strange, he thought. I'm not expecting anything at all. Office would have telephoned, surely, if any contracts needed signing?
"Er, did you see who left it for me?" he said.
"Non, monsieur," said Gaston. "I was not yet on duty."
Percy turned the envelope over in his hands. Suddenly some instinct told him not to open it here. He tucked it under his arm.
"Well, life is full of surprises, my boy, don't you find?" said Percy.
"It is indeed, sir."
"Well, a very bonne nuit to you!"
"À vous aussi," said Gaston.
And Percy headed for the elevator, already looking forward to the daily challenge of the intricate Art Deco doors.
Percy entered his room, turned on the lights and threw his hat, cane, key and package on the bed.
The doors out to his balcony were already open, the gentle evening breeze making the curtains sway.
He stepped out and took in the brilliantly beautiful view of Cannes, still...