Read The Tulip Eaters Online

Authors: Antoinette van Heugten

Tags: #Historical

The Tulip Eaters

BOOK: The Tulip Eaters
13.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

In a riveting exploration of the power the past wields over the present, critically acclaimed author Antoinette van Heugten writes the story of a woman whose child’s life hangs in the balance, forcing her to confront the roots of her family’s troubled history in the dark days of World War II…

It’s the stuff of nightmares: Nora de Jong returns home from work one ordinary day to find her mother has been murdered. Her infant daughter is missing. And the only clue is the body of an unknown man on the living-room floor, clutching a Luger in his cold, dead hand.

Frantic to find Rose, Nora puts aside her grief and frustration with the local police to start her own search. But the contents of a locked metal box she finds in her parents’ attic leave her with as many questions as answers—and suggest the killer was not a stranger. Saving her daughter means delving deeper into her family’s darkest history, leading Nora half a world away to Amsterdam, where her own unsettled past and memories of painful heartbreak rush back to haunt her.

As Nora feverishly pieces together the truth from an old family diary, she’s drawn back to a city under Nazi occupation, where her mother’s alliances may have long ago sealed her own—and Rose’s—fate.

Also available from Antoinette van Heugten
and Harlequin MIRA



Antoinette van Heugten

This novel is dedicated to my parents, Frans and Lony van Heugten, who fought in the Dutch resistance during World War II.
In their early twenties, they risked their lives for what they believed in. Their spirit and courage has inspired me in every endeavor.
They will always be my heroes.


We have no milk, no bread, no potatoes—just rotten peels. The boys now have to go far into the fields to pull frozen tulip bulbs from the ground. We grind the pulp and make thin soup and watery porridges from them. They are bitter, practically inedible, but we choke them down because otherwise we will starve.

—Anonymous Dutch housewife, circa 1944

During the Hongerwinter in 1944, a railway strike was ordered by the exiled Dutch government to further Allied liberation efforts. The Germans retaliated by placing an embargo on all food transports. Gas and electricity were cut off during one of the harshest winters in history. Potatoes and vegetables were long gone. There was no meat, milk, butter, coffee or sugar and not enough bread to feed one person, let alone a family. There was only one thing left to them in the barren fields.


Four and a half million people were affected by the famine. Over 20,000 starved to death. This represents the nadir of the war—Dutchmen forced to forage and choke down their national flower to stave off starvation. It is one of the great ironies of the Dutch occupation.


November, 1980

Nora balanced the grocery bag on one hip and inserted her key into the lock of the door leading from the garage into the house. This was the best moment of every day.
Her beautiful baby—almost six months now. Every little thing she did was a revelation. How she raised her tiny hand to Nora’s face as she held her. How her wide eyes, the deepest of blues, reacted to the slightest change of tenor in Nora’s voice. How the warmth of her small body nestled into Nora’s when she took her into her arms. When she held Rose, Nora didn’t know where her own body ended and her daughter’s began.

“Mom?” she called. No response, but that was normal. This was usually when her mother put Rose into her tiny, ruffled bathing suit and swirled her around in the pool. Moving back from Amsterdam to live with her mother had been a blessing. The thought of Anneke and Rose at home playing while she worked filled her with gratitude—and today was no exception. Contentment warmed her as she thought of the love she and Anneke shared in caring for Rose. Grandmother, mother and child. Life was perfect.

Nora shifted the groceries higher onto her hip and glanced at the pile of mail on the entryway table. Nothing interesting. The newspaper lay open. She scanned the headlines.
Iranian Phantoms and F-5 Tiger IIs Attack Iraqi Airfields Near Basra.
Nora shook her head. It was already 1980. Would the Middle East ever right itself? Her eyes flicked down the page.
Los Angeles, Comedian Richard Pryor Badly Burned Freebasing Cocaine.
Big surprise, she thought.

She looked through the living room window and caught a shimmer of water from the pool. Joy flooded her. She would take the groceries into the kitchen and then put on her bathing suit. She couldn’t wait to hold Rose in her arms. Every evening it felt the same—as if she had been gone for days. That first touch of baby skin revived her spirit, calmed her soul.

She stepped into the living room, still holding the groceries. She heard them crash to the floor and then her own scream. “Mom!”

Anneke lay prostrate on the thick white carpet, her beautiful hazel eyes gaping at the ceiling, a single bullet hole through her forehead.

“No!” screamed Nora. She ran into the living room, fell to her knees and feverishly searched for a pulse. Her fingers pressed again and again into the soft skin of her mother’s neck, but there was nothing,
Darkness exploded within her as she stared into Anneke’s vacant eyes. Nora’s heart leaped when she heard ragged breathing, until she realized that it was her own. “Oh, God, Mom!” she moaned.

Nora bent and cupped her mother’s face with shaking hands. As she pressed Anneke’s cold cheek against her own, Nora felt her heart slamming against her ribs, her breath now in hoarse gasps. Moaning, she closed her eyes, hoping wildly that when she opened them, this would all be a nightmare. But when she looked again, all she could see was a sickening stream of dark, ugly blood that ran from the gaping hole in Anneke’s forehead in a jagged path down her pale cheek. Then she released her mother’s face and saw the same slick blood on her own palms. Vomit rose up, but she fought it down. She stared at this face she loved. “Mom,” she whispered, “please, please don’t leave me!”

Half-choking, she looked at the blood on her shaking hands. Then she smelled it—a metallic odor of copper and rust—one she recognized all too well from the operating room. Her own mother’s blood on her hands! Bile rose in her again.

She studied the bullet hole. Scarlet blood had stained her mom’s silver hair, turning it a grisly purple, the flesh around it charred and black. The odor made Nora gag when she realized it smelled like burnt pork.

Moaning, she sat and clutched Anneke’s limp body and rocked her back and forth. Anneke’s slight frame swayed with the movement. Then Nora noticed that her gorgeous gray hair had been hacked off in ugly clumps, leaving stark patches of white scalp. She looked wildly around. Tufts of silver hair all over the carpet—feathers from a bird shot from the sky. “Why?” she cried. “Why would anyone do this to you?”

She drew back to shift her mom’s body onto the carpet. Anneke’s head lolled to one side. Nora screamed. The bullet had blasted a large hole through the back of her head. Nora felt faint. Gray brain matter mixed with blood hung out of Anneke’s skull. Nora tried to push the gray lumps back into her mother’s skull. They felt like buttery worms and smelled like spoiled eggs.

“Mom! Oh, Mom!” Gasping, she saw nothing but the hideous remains of her mother’s head and the slippery blood and brain matter on her own hands. The monstrous sight gripped her. She struggled up onto all fours and heaved waves of green bile onto the white carpet. Then she knelt, taking huge breaths, trying not to pass out. The silence felt endless. She heard only the ticking of the grandfather clock across the room, a relentless metronome to the macabre scene before her.

She roused herself. Her next thought was an iron spike into her brain. “Rose!” she cried. “Where are you?” Adrenaline shot through her as she jumped up and ran to the bassinet.
No Rose!
She raced into the nursery. The room was dark, the crib empty. “No!” Panic surged within her.

She rushed back into the living room and ran past her mother, desperate to search the other rooms. Running toward her bedroom, her heel caught on the rug and she fell. Pain seared through her right ankle.

Sobbing, she rolled over and found herself face-to-face with a total stranger. A man lay on his stomach, his right arm outstretched. His head was twisted toward her, right cheek pressed into the carpet. She screamed and tried to move away, but her ankle felt on fire. His face was so close that she could have felt his breath on hers—if he were alive. His black eyes looked as dead and cold as her mother’s. Then she saw the gun, dark and sinister, inches away from his outstretched arm and gloved fingers. Nora gasped, her heart in her throat.
Who was he? And where, oh God, where was Rose?

She got to her feet, wincing at the pain in her ankle, and rushed into each of the other rooms. “Rose!” she cried. “Rose!” She limped back and knelt by her mother, sobbing. “Where is Rose, Mom? Where is the baby?” She appealed to Anneke as if she could still give Nora an answer. Anneke’s blank, unholy stare never moved from the ceiling.
What in God’s name had happened?
She rose unsteadily, favoring her ankle. Her body still shook.
Who was the dead man? Why had he killed her mother? And Rose? Why would anyone kidnap her baby?

Ignoring the pain in her ankle, she ran to the front door and flung it open. She saw no one in the street, no one in the neatly groomed front yards. “Rose!” she screamed, as if her darling could answer her. She slammed the door and went back inside. Something on the carpet now caught her eye. As she knelt down and picked it up, she moaned. It was Rose’s tiny yellow hair band. Its cheerful flower had been ripped off and lay a few feet away. Then she knew. Rose was really gone. She clutched the flower to her breast and sobbed. One thought now pierced her mind.

Was Rose still alive?

BOOK: The Tulip Eaters
13.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

The Kingmaker by Haig, Brian
Revolution 2020 by chetan bhagat
Silent Voices by Gary McMahon
Body Dump by Fred Rosen
Sorceress Found by Lisa Blackwood