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The Secret Pianist by Andie Newton. Extract.

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Book Description

Sisters. Traitors. Spies.

When a British RAF Whitley plane comes under fire over the French coast and is forced to drop their cargo, a spy messenger pigeon finds its way into unlikely hands…

The occupation has taken much from the Cotillard sisters, and as the Germans increase their forces in the seaside town of Boulogne-sur-Mer, Gabriella, Martine and Simone can’t escape the feeling that the walls are closing in.

Yet, just as they should be trying to stay under the radar, Martine’s discovery of a British messenger pigeon leads them down a new and dangerous path. Gaby would do anything to protect her sisters but when the pianist is forced to teach the step-daughter of a German Commandant, and the town accuses the Cotillards of becoming ‘Bad French’ and in allegiance with the enemy, she realizes they have to take the opportunity to fight back that has been handed to them.

Now, as the sisters’ secrets wing their way to an unknown contact in London, Gaby, Martine and Simone have to wonder – have they opened a lifeline, or sealed their fate?

Readers can’t get enough of USA Today bestselling author Andie Newton:

‘A brilliant tale of resistance, sisterhood and dangerous secrets. Andie Newton is a master storyteller!’ Sara Ackerman, USA Today bestselling author of The Codebreaker's Secret

‘If you believe every WW2 story has already been told, think again. This one is special.’ Paulette Kennedy, bestselling author of The Witch of Tin Mountain


This is the beginning of chapter 2: The three sisters, Gaby, Martine and Simone, have found a messenger pigeon. The night before the decision on whether or not to eat the bird, use him, or turn him into the Germans was left unresolved. The Germans are on the hunt for the pigeons, and if they are caught with one, they’ll be arrested.

I woke before the sun broke and padded downstairs in my socks, thinking the entire evening before had been a dream, before coldly eyeing the piano where the German’s fingers had been. I held my stomach, pausing with that thought, and then did something I swore I’d never do since returning to Boulogne-sur-Mer.

I turned on my heel for the bureau and deliberately pulled my sheet music from a drawer.

God… I smelled the crackling pages, inhaling the papery, dusty scent from being left untouched in a drawer for months. It was what remained of my first and only composition, written with heart and sweat and passion in our tiny apartment when I was enrolled at the Paris Conservatory. Professor Caron told me it would transform the way we thought about music, and that pianists would study my methods for years to come. “It is,” the professor had said when I first played it, “a masterpiece.”

“Gaby!” Martine said, and I fell into the upholstered chair behind me, shocked breathless and holding the sheet music to my chest. She stole a pointed look at the music.

“Ah… I didn’t hear you,” I said, scrambling to shove it back into the bottom drawer and pretending I hadn’t reached in to begin with. I swiped my hands together after turning around as if I’d just tidied up. “Good morning. How’d you sleep?”

She watched me pour a cup of hot water from the kettle, and she was still watching me when I sat down at the kitchen table, stuffing sprigs of dried tarragon into the tea strainer.

“Well?” She slid into a kitchen chair, slamming her elbows on the table and making me jump with a spill of my tea. “What did you decide?”

I blotted the tea up with a rag.

“About what?” I asked.

She let out a breathy sigh. “About the pigeon.”

“Martine, I…” I started to say, and she immediately slumped forward from my tone and look. “Why can’t we cook it? We could all use some extra meat, and Simone’s always hungry.”

She collapsed on the table, arms spread, and groaning.

“I know this means a lot to you, but we don’t have any secret information to pass on,” I said, the tea strainer skimming the side of my cup as I swirled it around, waiting for the water to turn. “We’re seamstresses in a seaside village.”

Her head popped up. “Near a secret German U-boat pen,” she said.

I let go of the tea strainer.

“I told you this scheme was different.”

She got up to pour her own cup of tea, and toast a slice of bread, leaving me to think about what she’d said. Our shop had a direct view of the German U-boat pen next to the harbor, hidden under bushes and shrubs. Only a few small vessels served as obstacles from our vantage point, but they were usually out at sea.

Martine spread lard on her toast, scraping her knife back and forth over the burnt bits. “I’m sure the British would like to know what’s hiding under those shrubs. And what about the Reich’s oil facility? If they knew about it the RAF would have bombed it already.” She sat down with her plate. “Admit it, Gaby. This scheme could work.”

I turned away at first, but she was right. This scheme was different than all her others. “I admit it.” She slapped the table, clinking and clanging the dishes, and causing me to spill my tea again. “Stop doing that.”

“You won’t regret it! I’ve been thinking of this for so many months, how to get back at them, what to do—I can’t wait.” She squinted, fist clenching. “They deserve it for what they’ve done to us.”

“Wait a minute, Martine. I haven’t said yes.”

“What do you mean, you haven’t said yes?” She sat board-straight in her chair. “I heard you.”

“I only admitted that this scheme was different,” I said.

Her shoulders dropped.

“Martine, what if they dismiss what we have to say, think it’s a German message meant to fool them? We’d be risking our lives if someone saw us, and they could be tossing the message in the bin.”

“What’s the matter with you?” she asked. “After all you’ve lost.”

“Others have lost more,” I said, realizing I’d opened the door for such a conversation when she saw me with my music. “Martine, why can’t you understand I need more than one night to think about this? The risks are too great. This is different than giving rations away.” It looked like she’d finally accepted that I needed more time, then I wondered how much time I could take. “Did you feed the bird? How long do we have?”

“I fed it,” she said. “And from what the instructions say, we have a few days until the bird forgets where he’s from. But not many.”

“What did you feed it?” I asked, hoping she didn’t give the bird any of our bread, which was still fresh from the bakery and Simone hadn’t even had her slice yet.

Martine dug her hand in her pocket, pulling out some seed. “There was a packet of feed in his box.”

Seed slipped through her fingers and landed on the kitchen floor.

“Martine!” I said, looking around as if the Germans were watching. “See. Mistakes like that can cost you your life! Simone’s too, and mine. You put us all in danger.” I patted my forehead where I’d broken out in a cold sweat, and she picked up the seed, licking her fingertip and pressing it to each little individual seed on the floor.

“But if you’d just trust me—”

“Not now, Martine.”

“But Gaby…”

A lorry barreled up our road at a distance, leaving our words hanging in the air. Martine reached for my hand. When it lurched to a stop outside, I stood up.

“Is it the Germans?” Martine whispered.

“I don’t know,” I said, but if it wasn’t the Germans, it was most definitely bad news—a lorry that sat idle in the road with its engine rumbling only brought bad news. The scuff of boots preceded a tap on my door. I ripped off my apron and fixed my hair, smoothing back the strays before walking to the front door and catching their first words. Germans.

I nodded back to Martine, and she held on to the wall.

Author Bio

Andie Newton is the USA Today bestselling author of A Child for the Reich, The Girls from the Beach, The Girl from Vichy, and The Girl I Left Behind. She lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her family. When she’s not writing gritty war stories about women, you can usually find her trail-running in the desert and stopping to pet every Yellow Lab or Golden Retriever that crosses her path. Andie is actively involved with the reading and writing community on social media. You can follow her on X (Twitter) @andienewton and Instagram, or check out her author page on Facebook.

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