Thursday, May 8, 2008

Chateau Despair

My new book from Red Rose Publishing came out today. Chateau Despair is a big WWII saga that spans from 1921 until after the war.

Clothilde grows up in a crumbling chateau in France with her half mad grandmother. She is caught in Paris when the Germans invade and eventually joins the Resistance. Clothilde has several lovers, because men cannot seem to resist her.

Christine grows up in a beautiful country house in England. Her main problem is unrequited first love and clothing coupons. What can these two women possibly have in common - and what will happen when they finally meet?

Madame Fanchot watched in triumph as the child entered the world in a mess of slime and blood. However, her feeling was short-lived as she turned to its mother. She was dying. Her labour had been long and hard, and the months of carrying had taken their toll. No one would care what became of her or her child. She’d been foolish and careless and her behaviour had brought shame to her family. For herself, she could have little reason left to live, but Madame Fanchot knew that she feared for her child.
"Where is she?" The woman’s voice was barely more than a whisper. The blood drained out from between her thighs, sluggish and thick. Madame Fanchot gave up any attempt to staunch it. She believed nothing more could be done to help the woman, or perhaps she was either too indifferent or too ignorant to try to save her. "Let me see her…just once."
"She is beautiful, Madame," Madame Fanchot said. She laid the small bundle in the mother’s arms. The child was wrapped in nothing but the shawl the woman had been wearing when they’d found her wandering in the woods some hours earlier. "You have a lovely daughter."
"I want to call her Elena," the mother said. "Her name is Elen…"
The rattle of death caught in her throat, causing her head to fall back against the pillows.
"She has gone," a man said from the doorway. He spat on the floor of the filthy cottage. "So perish all such whores as they deserve."
"You are too harsh, Jean," his wife said. She took the squalling child from its mother and held it to her breast to quiet it. "How can you know who or what the poor woman was? She has scarcely spoken a word since we found her wandering."
"No decent woman would be alone in a wood in her condition," he muttered sourly. "If she came of good family they threw her out – and she isn’t wearing a wedding ring."
"That doesn’t mean she was a bad woman," Madame Fanchot gave the dead woman a pitying look. "What are we to do with her now?"
"I’ll bury her in the wood. I’ve no money to pay the priest for a proper burial for a stranger?
"But shouldn’t we tell someone? Supposing someone comes looking for her or the child one day?"
"We never saw her."
"What of the child?" she cried in horror at his callous words.
"Get rid of it…" He growled deep in his throat . "I don’t mean kill it – take it to the church. Leave it near the altar. The priest will know what to do. It won’t be the first time he’s had to deal with an abandoned bastard I’ll swear. I don’t care what you do with it, just get it out of the house."
"The shawl is hers. Was there nothing else – no ring or trinket of any kind that might help them to trace who the child’s mother was?"
"Nothing," he muttered in a way that immediately told her he was lying. "Nothing at all."
She scowled at him. If he’d stolen something from the woman, he would likely keep it until he thought it was safe to sell. She would not receive the smallest part of his ill-gotten gains, even though she was the one who’d gone through the trouble of attending the woman.
"I’m going to take the child," she told him. She hated his brutality; she hated the poverty of her life. She wished she dared to leave him and take the child with her. It was impossible. Poor as her life is, it was still better than starving on the streets. "If you mean to bury the woman, Jean, be careful. If anyone sees you there could be trouble."
"No one will see," he shrugged. "No one ever comes to the woods these days. Not after what happened up at the chateau."
Madame Fanchot crossed herself as she hurried out into the bleakness of a cold winter evening. The chateau remained empty for the past five years, save from the crazy old woman that owned it. The last of her family, she had lived there alone, hardly seeing anyone since the tragedy. Madame Fanchot’s mind shied away from what had happened all those years ago.
Indeed, she did not truly know for sure what had happened at the chateau. She’d only heard the rumours, but it was certain three people were brutally murdered there.
Shivering, she ran all the way to the church. She looked about her, but could see no one. Hurriedly, she deposited her bundle behind the priest’s pulpit. He would surely see it there when he came to take evening confession.
Afraid and guilty for leaving the child, Madame Fanchot made the sign of the cross over her heart and then ran from the church hastily. In her anxiety to get away, Madame Fanchot failed to notice the figure sitting quietly in the shadows. Nor did she ever know what happened after she’d left, though there would be times over the years when she wondered what had become of the child. Times when she believed she knew…

The day began much as any other. Long afterwards, Christine thought that surely there should have been a storm with thunder and lightening – something dramatic to warn her that her life was on the brink of change.
How lucky she was to be Christine Kavanagh and live at Penhallows, the beautiful old house she shared with her mother and grandfather. She looked up from her breakfast as she heard the sound of heels tapping on the polished floor. Her mother walked into the room. Christine experienced a wave of love. Elizabeth Kavanagh was at forty-five, still a very beautiful woman. Christine coveted her mother’s golden hair, but had inherited her late father’s dark colouring.
"Good morning, Mummy," Christine greeted. She received only a mumbled reply. Beth had her nose in a letter and held several more unopened ones in her hand. Christine poured her a cup of tea and placed a dish of hot toast beside her. "You must try this honey. It is delicious."
"Is it, darling? That’s good." Beth did not look up from her letter as she sipped her tea.
Christine smothered a sigh. She was used to being ignored by her mother, who was a busy woman and usually too wrapped up in her work to notice her daughter. Despite this, Christine knew she was loved. Indeed, her mother treated both her and her brother Harry exactly the same, loving them but leaving them to get on with their lives.
"Is there a letter from Harry?"
Beth looked up at last. "No, Christine. I’m sorry. I expect he’s too busy to write."
Christine frowned as she thought about her brother. Harry was nearly twenty-two. He had been born three months after Beth Winthrope’s marriage to Alexander Kavanagh, which had been rather scandalous but couldn’t be helped because of the divorce.
No one ever talked of the divorce these days, but Christine believed her father had been married before he’d met her mother. It had caused a terrible scandal, of which she’d been told only the bare bones. However, she understood from Harry that her father’s former wife had been involved in a wild, extravagant love affair with a Frenchman of good family.
Harry had told her about the old scandal after their father’s death. He’d come home on leave the previous summer and they’d sat together in the summerhouse, comforting each other as they’d talked of the past. Christine had asked him to tell her about the divorce. After a moment’s hesitation, he’d explained.
"It was a terrible scandal," he’d said. "Father’s first wife was the daughter of an earl, and a leading socialite of her day. Can you imagine what a furore it must have kicked up at the time?"
Christine had been thoughtful before she’d given voice to her question. "Do you think Daddy still loved her when he married Mummy?"
"I doubt any man could love a woman who’d put him through all that."
The tragic loss of Alexander Kavanagh had been recent then, and Christine spent several sleepless nights wondering about her father’s state of mind. She knew that he had loved her mother and his children – but sometimes wondered if he’d ever truly forgot the woman who had betrayed him.
Christine suddenly became aware of her mother speaking to her.
"What are you dreaming about now? Millie wants to clear the table and it’s time for your piano lessons."
Christine studied her mother as she came out of her daydream. Was it her imagination or did she seem worried about something?
The war made things difficult and taking care of a big old house like Penhallows was never easy. Christine thought that being a widow and running a business must put an intolerable strain on her mother, which was why she tried to help as much as she could.
"You might like to take this with you." Beth handed Christine a letter across the table. "It’s from one of the evacuee children who’d lived with us at the beginning of the war. Matthew asked if he can visit us next month. His uncle will bring him down and take him back at the end of his stay. What do you think, Christine? Can you tolerate a visit from Matthew Crane? He might have been a bit of a tearaway when he was last here, but that was three years ago and I dare say, he has grown up now."
"Yes, of course…if it wouldn’t be a problem for you?"
Christine enjoyed being with the children when she was home from her boarding school. She would have liked to leave school early to help with them more, but her family would not hear of it. Of course, she wasn’t old enough to join any of the special women’s units. Her mother insisted that she finish her education before thinking of anything else.
"I’ve never found the children any trouble," Beth replied. Her smiled made her look years younger than her forty odd years. "If the ministry had gone ahead with its plans to turn this house into a convalescent home for wounded soldiers, it would have been far more disruptive. We are lucky that they decided Penhallows is too small to make such a thing practical."
"I don’t think Penhallows is small at all," Christine was annoyed at any criticism of her beautiful home. "But I am glad they thought so!"
"Go along, Christine. Miss Timpson is waiting."
Christine rose obediently as her mother gathered her things. "Is there something I can do for you, Mummy – write letters, address envelopes…anything?"
"I have a secretary to do those things," Beth replied, softening her refusal with a smile. "It’s very kind of you to ask though." She gave her daughter an assessing look. "You need new clothes. Perhaps we can go to London soon. I’ve been saving my coupons, and Uncle Jack says he can spare a few for you."
"Is Uncle Jack coming here this weekend?"
"Yes, I believe so. He is bringing someone…a young lady. His letter was rather mysterious…" She broke off to make a note on the pad she habitually carried with her. "We need flowers for the best guest rooms, which reminds me…I shall want extra flowers for the church this weekend. Now you can help me with the flowers, darling."
"Yes, of course, Mummy."
"Miss Timpson arrived some minutes ago. You mustn’t keep her waiting. As for me, I have a great deal of work to do. Your uncle has sent me several new designs to approve – and one of them is bothering me. I am not certain that it is right for us."
"I still like your own designs best, Mummy. I think they were much better than any of the new stuff they sell now."

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