When Rachel Spaulding inherits her family's Napa Valley vineyard, it's a dream come true for the adopted daughter of loving parents. But her legacy is greeted with bitter hatred by her siser, Annie, who vows to do whatever it takes to discredit Rachel and claim the Spaulding vineyards for herself. And Annie begins by hiring a detective to dig into Rachel's past.
This was supposed to be a routine investigation, but P.I. Gregory Show realizes too late he's been used. When the information he uncovers for Annie leads to the reopening of a sensational murder case, he can't walk away. Especially when he feels responsible for the pain it's causing Rachel Spaulding.
But even Gregory is unaware of the danger emerging from three decades of deceit. And even he can't recognize the enemy within who knows there is only one way to lock the door of the past forever. Murder.
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"Courtney!" In her hotel room high above Paris's right bank, Rachel Spaulding stared at her fingernails in mock horror. "What are you doing to me?"
Rachel's fifteen-year old niece, a spunky, self-proclaimed fashion guru, gave Rachel's hand a light slap. "Adding a little oomph to your looks. And keep still, will you? Unless you want polish smeared all over your fingers."
"I agreed to a manicure," Rachel protested. "Not to have my fingernails painted harlot red."
Courtney chuckled but kept her head bent over Rachel's hand. "It's the latest shade, and it's not called harlot red. It's Rouge de Passion," she added in almost flawless French. "The saleswoman at the Lancôme counter said no man on earth would be able to resist it."
"Yes, well, I'm not here to inspire passion, but to win back Monsieur Fronsac's business."
"And you will." Courtney dipped her brush back into the small bottle and wiped the excess polish against the rim. "French men love women who aren't afraid of a little boldness every now and then."
Rachel couldn't quite hold back a smile. "Since when did you become such an authority on French men?"
Her brush held in midair, Courtney gave Rachel a knowing look. "I'm almost sixteen, Aunt Rachel. Not six."
Rachel looked fondly at her niece. Only two months away from her sixteenth birthday, Courtney Aymes was what most people would define as the typical California girl. She had long, silky blond hair,blue eyes that were a trademark of all Spaulding women, and long, shapely legs that had not gone unnoticed with the customs inspectors at Charles de Gaulle Airport yesterday.
Rachel adored her niece. She was everything her mother, Rachel's sister, wasn'twarm, funny, caring and loyal to a fault. It was also no secret that Courtney had more in common with Rachel than she had with her own mother, something that never failed to aggravate Annie and fuelled her animosity toward her younger sister.
It was because of that animosity that Annie had flatly refused to let Courtney go to Paris with Rachel, even though classes hadn't yet started. Only when Grams had intervened, insisting the short trip would do Courtney good, had Annie finally given her permission.
"There." The teenager pulled back to admire her handiwork. "What do you think?"
"Well ..." Rachel took a few seconds to study her perfectly laquered nails. "It's not a color I would have chosen for myself, but I have to admit, I don't hate it as much as I thought I would."
Courtney grinned. "Aren't you glad you brought me along?"
Rachel laughed. "Deliriously so. I don't know how I would have managed without you."
Learning back in her chair, Courtney looked at Rachel from head to toe and gave a nod of approval. "You look hot."
Once again, Courtney's choice of words made Rachel smile. The kid was definitely good for her ego. "Thank you, sweetie."
Holding her hands away from her so she wouldn't smudge the polish, Rachel walked to the large gilded mirror over the fireplace and inspected her reflection. At the last minute, and at Courtney's suggestion, she had opted for the understated but elegant black suit instead of the brown dress she had originally planned to wear. Never one to fuss with her looks, she had brushed her short brown hair back and had kept her makeup to a minimuma dusting of blush on her cheeks and red gloss on her lips. It was a lot more than she wore at home in Calistoga where simplicity and comfort ruled. But, as Courtney never tired of reminding her, this was Paris.
Her gaze drifted to her left hand where the four-carat diamond solitaire Preston had given her for their engagement last month glowed brilliantly. When his mother's San Francisco jeweler had come to the Farley house for a private showing, Rachel had told the man she preferred simple, inconspicuous jewelery. But both Preston and his mother had been adamant. As the future wife of one of California's most promising attorneys, Rachel had to look the partmeaning, of course, she had to look affluent. She hadn't had the heart to disappoint them.
The thought of leaving the ring in the hotel safe came and went. She had to get used to the darn thing, and in a way, the expensive stone would make her feel as though Preston was right here, cheering her on. Lord knew she could do with a small dose of self-confidence right about now. This meeting with Monsieur Fronsac and his two associates had her in knots. According to Annie, the winery's marketing director, the man gave the word arrogance a new meaning, which was the reason Rachel had first turned down her grandmother's request to go to Paris to try to save the account.
"Annie is the one who insulted him," she had protested. "Let her go and apologize."
But Fronsac, the owner of France's largest chain of supermarkets, had wanted nothing more to do with Annie Spaulding or, for that matter, Spaulding Vineyards. In the end, Rachel had had no choice but to agree with her grandmother. If Spaulding Vineyards expected to earn a place in French markets, Monsieur Fronsac would have to be wooed back.
"You look as if you are about to face the guillotine," Courtney remarked with a giggle.
Rachel turned away from the mirror. "It shows, huh?"
"I'll say." Courtney tucked the bottle of nail polish in her makeup case. "But I don't know why you're so worried. I heard Grams and Preston talking the other day. They both agreed that if anyone can win back Old Goat Fronsac, it's you."
"Grams and Preston tend to overrate my abilities," Rachel replied. But deep down she was pleased at their faith in her. Especially Preston's. The son of a superior court judge and a San Francisco socialite, her handsome fiancé wasn't easily impressed. Needless to say, his compliments were few and far between.
Shaking off her apprehension, she waved her hands in the air. "Am I dry?"
Jumping from her chair, Courtney tested a nail with the tip of her finger and nodded. "Yes, ma'am."
Rachel walked over to the four-poster where her briefcase lay open and quickly checked the contents. Satisfied she had everything she needed for the meeting, she snapped the lid shut. "Wish me luck?" She gave Courtney a silly grin.
"Luck." Courtney gave her a quick hug. "And call me as soon as the meeting is over, okay? We'll celebrate your victory with a totally decadent lunch."
Rachel laughed. "You know something?" she said, wrapping her arm around her niece's waist as they both walked toward the door. "I am glad you came along."
It was ten minutes past eleven when Rachel emerged from the seventeenth-century building on rue Saint Jacques where Fronsac's office was located. Still feeling tense, she leaned against the facade and heaved a long sigh of relief.
After a grueling one-and-a-half hour meeting with Fronsac and his two associates, the businessman had agreed, for a price, to let bygones be bygones and to feature a select number of Spaulding wines in all of his five hundred stores.
It hadn't been easy. Or cheap. Annie's little blunder had cost the winery a whopping fifty percent case discount, five percent over what Fronsac had originally requested. She didn't know who she was more annoyed with, Annie or the Frenchman.
Her efforts, though, had been well rewarded. Not only had Fronsac signed on the dotted line, but he had insisted on announcing the deal between Supermarchés Fronsac and Spaulding Vineyards at a press conference.
Within twenty minutes, half a dozen reporters representing various newspapers and magazines had arrived, along with a television camera crew from France 2, and bombarded her with questions, in English, thank God.
Now that the excitement was over and the contracts signed, Rachel could finally feel herself relax. And Courtney's suggestion of a decadent lunch sounded even better than it had earlier.
Remembering her promise to call her niece, Rachel scanned the busy street for a phone booth and spotted one only a few feet from La Sorbonne. Without missing a stride, she took her phone card from her purse and headed toward the famous university, inhaling the crisp autumn air as she walked.
Paris had always been one of her favorite places in the entire world. And nowhere did the City of Light look more appealing, or more French, than it did right here in the Latin Quarter.
Long known as a haven for Bohemian intellectualism, and once the home of such luminaries as Ernest Hemingway, Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Chevalier, this lively neighborhood was, for many, the heart and soul of Paris.
Rachel had no idea why she felt such an attachment to France. Like many Americans, her first trip to Europe had taken place during her high school junior year. Of all the countries she had visited in those twelve hectic daysItaly, Switzerland, Germany and Franceit was the latter that had made the strongest impression on her.
She had come back often after that, for brief vacations she managed to squeeze in every now and then. Fascinated, she had absorbed the rich history like a sponge, traveling through the lush countryside, discovering charming little villages off the beaten track and learning the language as she went.
As she neared the phone booth, a lively rendition of "When the Saints Come Marching In" made her look up. A saxophonist, one of the many street musicians who performed throughout Paris, stood in the middle of the sidewalk, playing with great gusto while onlookers clapped their hands to the music.
By the time Rachel was able to make her way through the growing crowd, the phone booth was occupied. Rather than wait, she gave a careless shrug, dropped the token back into her purse and headed for the taxi stand.
The sun was slowly rising above the Howell Mountains, its warm rays shimmering through the valley, turning the dew-covered grapes into tiny jewels.
Using a cane for support, Hannah Spaulding walked along a row of vines, something she had been doing every morning at this time of year for the past fifty-five years.
And what glorious years they had been, she reflected as her gaze swept over the sprawling five hundred acres that made up Spaulding Vineyards in the small town of Calistoga. It hadn't been easy, with Prohibition nearly destroying the Napa Valley's burgeoning wine industry, then the Great Depression and World War II soon after that. More than a hundred wineries in the Napa Valley alone had been forced to close operations during those difficult years. But Spaulding Vineyards, along with a handful of others, had managed to survive.
Then in 1968 something extraordinary happened. At a blind tasting in France, three Cabernet Sauvignons, one of which was produced by Spaulding, won major awards, beating vintage wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy. Suddenly the wines no one had wanted to take seriously were being talked about on both sides of the Atlantic, changing forever the way people perceived American winemaking.
Once again wineries began popping up like mushrooms, some growing so large they soon captured the world market. While Spaulding, with a production of five hundred thousand cases a year, was hardly a mom-and-pop operation, it had never been able to compete abroad. Until recently.
Hannah slowly resumed her walk. If Rachel was able to regain the Fronsac accountand Hannah felt certain she wouldthere would be no limit to what Spaulding could do. That's why she was still reluctant to give up control of the winery. Whatever lay ahead for Spaulding, Hannah wanted very much to be a part of it. But at seventy-six, and with two heart attacks behind her, her doctor's orders had been very strict. She was to avoid all stress and cut her work week from sixty hours to twenty. Hannah had scoffed at the ridiculous suggestion.
"Why, I'll die of inactivity within a week," she had told Dr. Warren. "You might as well bury me right now."
They had settled for thirty hours, with Hannah sneaking in a few more here and there.
Her girls, as she called her two granddaughters, had taken up the slack, each doing the job that suited her best. Annie's outgoing, exuberant personality had made her a shoe-in for marketing. Rachel, on the other hand, had shown an early fascination for winemaking and a love for the land that was just as strong as Hannah's.
A small smile played on Hannah's lips as she remembered the way Rachel, only a toddler at the time, used to cup the heavy grape clusters in her chubby little hands and bring them to her face to smell them. At age five she could name every grape Spaulding Vineyards grew and match them, correctly, with the wine produced. At ten, she was giving tours of the winery to her classmates and at sixteen, she worked in the cellars, hosing down the cement floors, scrubbing the tanks before harvest, doing whatever was required of her.
Now at thirty-one, she was well on her way to becoming one of the youngest and most talented winemakers in the valley. Hannah's only regret was that the girls had never learned to get along. Even now that they were grown up, the mere mention of Rachel's name made Annie bristle. Three years ago, tired of living under the same roof as Annie, Rachel had moved out of Hannah's home and bought her own house up on the Calistoga hills.
At the sound of Annie's voice, Hannah turned in time to see her eldest granddaughter dismount Electra, the mare she had won as part of her fourth divorce settlement. With those snug riding pants, brown boots, and her fiery red hair glowing in the morning light, Annie looked nothing short of spectacular.
As usual when looking at Annie, Hannah was reminded of her late son Jack. He had possessed those same vibrant good looks, and for a while had been just as untamed and unpredictable as Annie. Marriage and a baby had changed him, thank God. But matrimony and motherhood hadn't changed Annie, who at thirty-nine and after four unsuccessful marriages, showed no sign of settling down. That was the reason Hannah had asked to speak to her this morning.
"Glad you could make it, dear," she said as her granddaughter kissed her cheek.
Annie wrapped the mare's bridle around her wrist and fell into step with Hannah. "I wouldn't pass up a chance to spend some quality time with you, Grams, you know that." She threw Hannah a mischievous grin. "Even if I have to get up at an ungodly hour to do so."
"You used to be an early riser, too."
"That was a long time ago." Annie raked back her hair, made wild by the ride. "I'm a hardworking girl now. I need my eight hours' sleep."
"And you would have them," Hannah replied, "if you went to bed at a decent hour instead of closing every nightclub in San Francisco."
As if she hadn't heard the comment, Annie bent over a ripe cluster, plucked a grape and popped it into her mouth. "Mmm. The cabernets are ready, aren't they?"
"Careful." Annie looked west toward the Mayacamas, the mountain range that separated Napa Valley from the Pacific Ocean. "It may not look it right now, but rain is on the way."
Hannah followed her gaze. Even though the sky was a vibrant blue and the air was warm, she knew from experience how quickly the weather could turn at this time of year. "The trucks are standing by," she said with a nod. "Rachel is pretty certain we'll start picking on Friday."
"When did you hear from her?" Annie asked casually.
"This morning. She was a nervous wreck at the prospect of meeting Fronsac, though she has no reason to be. She'll do just fine."
Annie looked off into the distance. "Not like me, who always screws up."
"I didn't say that," Hannah protested.
"But that's what you were thinking."
"No, it' s not."
"Oh, come on, Grams. Everyone knows you and Rachel have a special bond."
"If you're implying, again" Hannah put added emphasis on the word "that I love your sister more, then once again I'll have to tell you that you're wrong. That bond you mention does exists, that's true, but only because Rachel and I share the same passion for winemaking."
"And that passion makes her special."
"In a way, but it doesn't change the fact that I love you both the same, always have." Hannah studied the stubborn slant of Annie's chin, wondering if she would ever get through to her. "You two are the dearest people in my life, even though you're as different from one another as night and day."
"But it's Rachel you sent to Paris."
Hannah laughed. "Oh, darling, I could hardly have sent you, could I? If Monsieur Fronsac had any say on it, he'd have you banned from France forever."
"Fronsac is a jerk."
"Maybe so, but he is Spaulding's ticket to French markets." Her gaze settled on her beautiful, very outspoken granddaughter. "What could you have been thinking, darling? Insulting his Gallic pride by calling French wines inferior?"
"He made me mad." Annie kicked a stone and sent it flying. "He expectedno, correction, he demanded a forty-five percent case discount, and when I asked him if he would put Spaulding wines in a special display in return for my generosity, he just laughed at me and said that special displays were reserved for French wines. You should have heard him, Grams, acting as though he was doing us a favor by buying our wines." She turned to look at Hannah. "Is that why you called me here? To talk about that old grouch?"
"No." Their glances met briefly. "I wanted to talk to you about your new ... conquest."
Annie raised a thin eyebrow, another gesture that reminded Hannah of her late son. "You mean, Rick Storm?"
"Yes. I understand you brought him back to the winery last night."
"How do you know?"
"It's hard to sleep through the roar of a Harley," Hannah said dryly.
"I'm sorry, Grams. I wasn't thinking. I should have asked him to leave the bike at the gate"
Hannah made an impatient gesture. "I don't care about that. What does worry me, however, is that you're involved with him at all."
"Have you ever approved of any of the men I've dated?" Annie's tone was half teasing, half reproachful.
"Certainly. With the exception of that Argentinean gigolo who only wanted your money, I liked all your husbands. But this Rick Storm." She gave a disapproving shake of her head. "The man's a menace to society. Not a week goes by without him being involved in some bar brawl, or being arrested for assaulting a paparazzo, or for driving his bike at a hundred miles an hour through the streets of San Francisco."
"He's a rock star, Grams. Living on the edge is part of his image."
"And you're a Spaulding," Hannah snapped. "You, too, have an image to live up to." She heaved a helpless sigh. These intense conversations between her and Annie were getting more and more frequent lately, and although the girl always swore she would change, she never did. After four failed marriages, all because of her blatant infidelity, Annie was as wild as she had been in her college days.
"You don't have to worry anymore." Annie sent another spray of pebbles up in the air. "Rick and I are through."
"Oh." At last, good news. "How come?"
"He told me he was thinking of ordering some Spaulding wines for a party he's giving next week. Naturally, I agreed he should taste them first, which is why I brought him back here last night. When I realized all he really wanted was to get us both drunk, I kicked him out. I don't think I'll be hearing from him anytime soon."
"Good." Hannah's voice softened. Maybe there was hope, after all. "I'm proud of you for standing up to him, Annie. You did the right"
A sudden sharp pain shot through Hannah's chest, and she doubled over.
"Grams!" Annie let go of her mare and wrapped her arm around her grandmother's waist. "What is it? What's wrong? Oh, my God," she cried as Hannah's knees slowly folded under her. "Is it a heart attack?"
Hannah tried to speak, but another pain, one that radiated through her entire chest, shot through her again. It is a heart attack, she thought, using all her willpower to stay conscious. And this one is bad.
Annie knelt beside her. "Don't die, Grams," she sobbed. "Please don't die." Then, as though realizing she had to do something, she lowered Hannah's head to the ground. "I'll go get help. You stay calm. I"
But as Annie started to stand, Hannah's hand closed around her wrist. "No."
"What do you mean, no? You're sick, Grams. You'll die if I don't get help." Another sob escaped from her granddaughter's throat. "What will become of me if you die?"
In spite of the excrutiating pain, Hannah wanted to laugh. How typical of Annie to think of herself at a time like this. "Too late for help, Annie. Need to ... say ... something."
"Not now, Grams. I've got"
"Listen to me." Hannah tried to take a breath and winced as the muscles in her chest constricted even more. She felt as if a big strong fist had taken hold of her heart and was slowly, mercilessly, squeezing the life out of it. "It's about Rachel ..."
Annie's mouth tightened but she didn't say anything.
Hannah closed her eyes. Her breathing had turned shallow, and the sunlight, so bright and warm moments before, had begun to fade. Making a desperate effort, she squeezed Annie's hand again. "Tell Rachel ... her mother ... her birth mother, Alyssa, is alive."
Annie's mouth opened and her blue eyes grew huge with shock and disbelief. "But ... she can't be. She died in childbirth."
"No, she didn't." Hannah licked her lips and took another short breath. "Rachel needs to know. Tell her ... Sister Mary-Catherine ... Our Lady of Good Counsel in Santa Rosa ... will help."
As the light dimmed, Hannah struggled to keep her eyes open. She was running out of time. And there was still so much she needed to say. "Promise me ... You'll ... tell Rachel."
Waiting for a reply, Hannah tried to focus her gaze on Annie, but it was her late husband's face she saw instead. Dressed in the gray morning coat he had worn on their wedding day, Henry looked more handsome than ever, without a wrinkle on his face. The same beguiling smile that had turned her head so many years ago played on his lips. "Dear Hannah."
At the sound of his voice, the pain in her chest seemed to lessen and the anxiety she had experienced a moment before vanished. "Henry"
Annie's panicked cry brought her back and for a moment Hannah was filled with a great sadness at the thought of what her girls would have to go through. "Love you," she murmured.
She wanted to add "And Rachel," but Henry stepped closer. As he extended his hand, his gold wedding band caught the light and gleamed. "Come, Hannah," he said gently. "I've been waiting for you."
Hannah looked up at him, then with a small sigh she took his hand.