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For Laure Frémont it is the end of a fairy story, the moment of ‘happy ever after’. In the summer of 1866 she has married the man of her dreams, Philippe Naillac, owner of the Château de Casseuil with its famous vineyards. Soon, she is as passionate about the vineyard as he is. A lifetime of unbroken happiness lies before them – or so she believes.
But there is to be no ‘happy ever after’. All too soon the clouds gather over her new life. There is Philippe’s redoubtable mother, who clearly has no intention of relinquishing control over the household to her daughter-in-law. There is the new disease from America that threatens the vineyards of France, and Casseuil’s in particular. And there are the looming financial difficulties that Laure does not see until – too late – a night of horror forces them on her consciousness.
Plunged into grief and heartache, she finds herself struggling alone to ensure the survival of the place she has come to love, along with her own survival and that of her daughter, Mathilde. Faced with poverty, isolation and the hostility of a male-dominated world, Laure sets out with ruthlessness and skill to restore the vineyard to its former greatness, at terrible cost to her own hopes of happiness. She – and Casseuil – survive war, rebellion and social unrest, until a devastating global conflict in a new century threatens to destroy for ever all that she has worked for.
The turning point:
She grasped the dog’s collar, just in case, and laid down the lantern while she opened the door, and then took it up again and held it high as she went in. Fine Fleur snorted a greeting at her from somewhere in the shadows; Philippe’s Grand Turc gleamed black in the light. It was him she had heard, then. He looked magnificent, as always, a beautiful specimen of healthy horse-flesh.
She came to an abrupt halt. Grand Turc, whom she had seen three days ago trotting with contained grace and power along the road away from the château with Philippe on his back – how could he be here now?
Frowning a little, trying to make it out, she went to him, reaching over the door of his stall to run a hand along the muscular arched neck. He had been rubbed down after a fashion, but there was moisture still on his mane, and his coat had a touch of dampness about it. But then it would, if he had been out in that storm.
Philippe must be home! Perhaps he had somehow passed her in the dark. She must go back to the house, quickly. Her heart light, she called, ‘Hercule!’ Where was that dog? The wretched animal had gone again. She heard a rustle of straw, a sharp bark, an agitated whimper. What now? she thought, following the sound to the far end of the stall.
She almost tripped on the gun, half concealed in the straw near the outstretched hand with its open palm, its relaxed fingers. Her breath caught somewhere in her throat, she lifted the lantern high. There by the whimpering dog he lay stretched on the straw, his head a bloody pulp of mangled flesh and shattered bone, and something worse…