Clare James never intended to do more than visit museums and sketch the work of centuries of artists who had come before her when she signed up for a study abroad program in London, England.
However, after her travel companion’s belongings are nearly blown up under suspicious circumstances, she arrives at her flat where her new roommate bullies her at knifepoint. Exhausted and scared, she is quickly disillusioned about her reasons for coming overseas.
And then Lizbeth, a friend from the United States whose mother is British, shows up with a mysterious tale of a stolen family heirloom––a painting so small it could be hidden in the sole of a shoe. This painting could prove the existence of a lost royal heir and close the doors of one of London’s largest churches forever.
Intrigued like a modern Nancy Drew, she goes from decoding messages by candlelight in the dome of St. Paul’s cathedral to avoiding capture by doodling caricatures of guests amidst the glitz of a grand country ball.
In her quest to find the truth, can Clare stay connected to the unique voice God has given her to share her testimony with the other students in the program and solve the meaning of the miniature painting’s existence without compromising her beliefs?
Reader’s Guide Included
Before it could reach my eyes, the smile had died on my lips, leaving a bad taste in my mouth.
Our group sprawled around in various positions of repose on the decaying pews in the abandoned cathedral. They had gotten quiet, looking to me for a reaction, so I forced my constricted throat to spit out a decidedly American response.
Applause broke out like fireworks sputtering at a backyard barbecue. “I knew you’d see it our way!” He held out his hand and I tried not to cringe as our fingers interlocked and he raised them over our heads. “Cheers all! So much for being a little fish in a big pond anymore! We’re getting married!” The group clapped and whooped, but I didn’t feel their exuberance. My heart was thudding slow and heavy in my chest. I hadn’t said yes. Maybe he was joking. His entrancing accent that usually took me to the streets of Dublin, distracting me from everything, including his peanut shaped head, didn’t work this time. It was as if I had noticed a tiny spec in the middle of a lavishly restored ancient painting that I thought I loved. I’d looked at the painting numerous times, but today I’d been handed a magnifying glass to exam it. There, in the middle, I found a tiny red devil laughing at me from his cozy kingdom bordered by the gilded picture frame. How could I have not realized what they really wanted? I had been so blind! And now the question was, would they just let me fly home after I said no thanks? Instinctively I didn’t want him to know my thoughts. I needed to get out of there and I needed to figure this out - like now! Forcing myself to breathe slowly, I fought the urge to burst into hysterical laughter and run screaming toward the door. They started slapping each other on the back and congratulating him. He had dropped my hand by now, so I moved one foot behind me and took a step backward. Niema bounced to my side like a small immaculate black bird and her hand gripped my arm. Her clipped British tones were shrill in my ears. “From the second I met you, I knew it was going to be you. No one expected an American, much less a woman, but I knew that no one else was bringing in so much information from visitors so quickly. I mean, you have the gift of charisma, like Cleopatra,” she gushed. “How I am flustered today! He was not supposed to announce this today, but he is so head strong! You will have to watch that.” I couldn’t mask my expression of disbelief so I avoided her eyes and looked down at her delicate brown fingers clinging to my sweatshirt sleeve. Her nails were unpainted. I had watched those same fingers rifle through hundreds of thin crisp pages trying to answer my questions. She had always been calm, cool, and probably calculated. She tilted her head from side to side and twittered as she squeezed my arm. “Our group knew you were going to be high ranking. Our group brought you in. We knew you were going to get us big rewards.” Her face distorted in the widest smile I’d ever seen her express, her teeth gleaming white against her dark skin. She darted away to the front of the long room, too pleased with her anticipated rewards to notice my lack of enthusiasm. Turning abruptly, I stepped into the middle of a quiet cluster of people walking out the door with their heads down. Bowing my head too, I clenched my backpack in front of me so I wouldn’t be recognized from behind and slipped out the door among them. On the sidewalk, the silent group broke off into different directions, leaving me standing alone in a pool of light next to an iconic red English phone booth. It was empty. I turned my head to the shops along the street, but their windows were all dark hollow eyes staring back at me. They had long been closed for the evening. I felt like I was standing in the middle of an Edward Hopper painting and the artist hadn’t painted anyone in the whole world but me, alone. The nightly mist begin rolling in around my ankles and I could feel the damp through my trouser legs. I knew I didn’t have much time before they missed me. It was getting late and I didn’t know where I was. It was my own fault for not paying better attention, but someone always pointed me toward home at the end of the evenings so I hadn’t tried too hard to keep my bearings in a foreign city. I shivered. Consciously I forced my legs to move through the thick swirls of mist until I spotted the subway, or tube as they called it. Ducking down the stairs to the empty platform, I fumbled for my pass. A train was just opening it’s doors. I didn’t care where it was going; I just had to get away from there. Behind me the doors clicked shut with a hiss and as I quickly sat down, I saw Baing charge onto the cold gray platform. He was followed by Boone, his twin brother, and supposedly, my intended. I hunched down behind the homeless man sleeping in the seat next to me and my frozen brain fumbled for words to pray. God, don’t let them spot me. Hide me, please! Hide me under your wings! Oh, God. . . The train moved out and gathered speed, the lights in the compartment flickered. I desperately tried to focus my eyes on the bouncing map of the underground system above me on the wall. I was not near my apartment, or flat as they called it, by a long shot. The tube did seem to be heading in the right direction, though. I’d have to change trains about four times. Of course, they knew where I lived and they’d be racing there now in Langland’s car. I grimaced at the thought of riding with Langland. He was a maniac driver, but the only one of the students with his own transportation. I avoided him as much as possible after he’d casually offered to give me a lift to lunch one Sunday after church. I had unwittingly accepted his invitation because riding on the opposite side of the street was fascinating and I’d never been in a car with the steering wheel on the right side of the dash. His excessive speeding made the streets sail past in the tiny roller skate car like a series of Impressionist paintings. I saw blurred glimpses of nannies pushing perambulators, dogs barking on leashes, and bicycles ambling like gaggles of geese. As we hurtled unwaveringly toward a fork in the road going at least 80 kilometers an hour, he’d turned to me, as any polite British gentleman might, and calmly asked in his dashing accent, “Left or right?” “What?” I said. “As Bob’s your uncle, pick one now.” He repeated steadily. “Should we divert to the left or the right of the fork?” “Well, hold your horses a minute, I don’t know how to get there!” His penetrating stare was unnerving me as we sped forward at an alarming rate. “Shouldn’t you slow down or at least look at the road? I don’t know which way - FINE, LEFT!” I yelled it out as I stomped my foot down on the floor seeking a nonexistent brake petal and clawing at my seat belt. We were so close to the fork, we took a bush out that was planted by the side of the road as he cranked the steering wheel and the small car banked off the curb on it’s two left tires. The bush bounced off the hood and over the roof in a flash and the swirl of leaves it coughed out hadn’t settled before we had already raced through two more intersections and I had decided that this James Bond wannabe had a screw loose. Later I’d found out that both sides of the fork could get you to the cafe. So much for the great idiom about the fork in the road leading you on two different paths of life. They said he turned down that street every time he could get a girl in his car. So far every young lady had picked the left fork and thus, as the car swerved, they were thrown to the left and away from him. He was waiting for the girl who picked the right fork. When the car spun to the right, she would be thrown toward him and confirm that she was his girl. It merely confirmed for me that he was an idiot. The tube hissed to a stop, the doors slid open, and I scrambled to jump over the gap
Charlene Yoder studied abroad while earning her Graphic Design BFA from Millikin University. She holds an art teacher’s license for all grades. She does murals and teaches private art lessons in Sarasota, Florida where she lives with her husband and daughter. Yoder won first place in the 2014 Aspiring Authors Writing Contest for Soul Snare, her first novel.