Traveling to France on business, Alexandra Dawson has decided to seize the opportunity to explore a mysterious piece of her own heritage-a half-burnt picture of a woman who looks eerily like her, taken more than a hundred years ago in a local castle. In the charming rural village of Chandeniers, she discovers something else too-the gruff, ruggedly good-looking heir of the crumbled chateau.
Eric Lagnel is completely uninterested in Alex's queries, until he realizes that she may have stumbled on a way to save the building. Their unlikely partnership is a surprise. But as Alex slowly unravels the secrets of her great-great-grandmother's photograph-and the true history of the chateau-she begins to understand that no one is ever prepared for the ways love can heal old wounds and open the hardest hearts.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.76(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Chandeniers-sur-Vienne Present day
"In fifty meters, turn left. You have arrived at your destination."
The low, masculine voice purring with a delicious Scottish accent was coming from the GPS on my phone.
Don't judge me. We all have our guilty pleasures. I'd downloaded the app six months ago and ever since then, I sometimes — read: every day — turn on the GPS to drive home, just to hear its husky, sexy accent.
Even if all it did was tell me to merge and keep right.
Jamie's fault, Your Honor. Everything is James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser's fault.
I looked around for the crossroads Fake-Jamie had just signaled and switched on my turn signal to swerve onto an adorable paved street. A few seconds later, I drew level with the aptly named L'Auberge du bout de la rue, which was indeed at the end of the street. I had booked a room there for the next few days.
I smiled to myself as I got out of the rental and spun on the spot, taking in the scenery, the ambience, the sounds, the smells.
This was it. This was what France meant to me. Charmingly old- fashioned cities with cobbled streets and centuries-old stone buildings. In this place, everything breathed history. No matter where you went, where you looked, you could almost feel the presence of the people who had lived there a hundred, two hundred, a thousand years earlier. And the town of Chandeniers, at the very heart of the Loire valley and the surrounding vineyards, was the perfect embodiment of my idea of a historical French city, from the little stone bridge to the old water mill and the many book stands lining the banks of the Vienne River. After several weeks' hard work, I was more than ready to kick back and enjoy playing tourist.
I sighed blissfully and swung the car door shut. Like most of the houses on the street that ran parallel to the river, the inn was built with white stone and had blue shutters. Its name gleamed in wrought iron letters over the door.
"If I could afford it, I would buy a vacation home here in a heartbeat!" I muttered to myself as I climbed the steps. "This place is amazing!"
I reached for the heavy doorknocker to signal my arrival when the door abruptly swung open and I came face-to-face — or rather, face to shoulder — with what seemed to be a Tom Hiddleston doppelganger with a little boy clinging to his hand.
"See you tomorrow?" He dedicated a smile — one I could objectively say was devastating — to someone inside the house.
"See you tomorrow!" a female voice confirmed.
He turned around and almost ran straight into me.
"Don't worry about it."
He stepped to his right just as I stepped left. We repeated the maneuver for a few seconds before we came to a stop, laughing.
Yup, that smile definitely qualifies as devastating.
"Shall I go right and you left?" he suggested.
"My left or yours?"
"Mine, or else we could be here all night. While it is the intended purpose for an inn, it kind of defeats the point if you stay on the threshold."
I held back another laugh and stepped right, he shifted the other way and at last we could resume the courses of our normal lives.
"Good day to you."
"Come on, Quentin, let's go."
I watched them walk away then turned back to the door, which was still hanging open. A woman in her thirties stood there. There was a distinctive pout on her impish, bright-eyed face as she tracked the man for a few moments, before she shook her head slightly and turned to me.
"Hi, what can I do for you?"
"Hi. I'm Alexandra Dawson; I phoned this morning to confirm my booking."
"Ah! I was waiting for you! Please come in." She moved back to let me through. "I'm Marine Clément, the owner. Welcome to the Auberge du bout de la rue!"
"Thank you, Ms. Clément."
"Please! Call me Marine. Ms. Clément is my mother!" She laughed. "I don't think I'm quite old enough to go by Ms.!"
"I will, if you call me Alexandra," I replied brightly. "I couldn't agree more, to be honest." I leaned closer to add in a mock whisper: "Ever since I got here, everyone's been calling me Ms. Dawson; it feels like I aged twenty years in a month. I feel like I should check for wrinkles every morning!"
"Don't worry, there isn't one in sight!"
"Phew! What a relief!"
We moved inside as we joked together and she proceeded to charm me utterly. The inside was just as lovely as the outside. The furniture was rustic but modern, in shades of faded pink, beige and plain wood. Potted plants and flowers in every nook and cranny completed the inn's old-fashioned charm. It was cozy, warm, comfortable. In a word, perfect.
"Wow. I love what you've done with the place," I told her.
"Thank you! I'm glad you like it. You're from the US, right?"
"Is it that obvious?" I joked. "And here I thought my accent was perfect."
"Oh, it's fairly good. But you can't hide it completely. Where are you from?"
"California, the Napa Valley more precisely. Ever heard of it?"
"Wine country, right?"
"Well, you must feel right at home here. Wine is kind of our local product."
"I'm one hundred percent in my element. Actually, I even work for a wine company."
"So you're here on business?"
"Yes and no. I was on a business trip with my supervisor, but she went back yesterday and I stayed to take a vacation."
"You're going to think I'm biased, but you couldn't have chosen a better place. We're at the heart of the Loire valley, there are castles all around, a wine road to die for, and just between the two of us, Chandeniers is the most beautiful city in the world."
"One hundred percent unbiased too." Marine laughed and added, "Shall I show you to your room?"
"Lead the way."
I followed her up the stairs and down a narrow corridor to a smallish, absolutely adorable room tastefully decorated in shades of blue and off- white. The bed — a four-poster — had thin, transparent blue curtains, the same tone as the walls and the window curtains, hanging from the canopy, and an antique bedside table with a pretty reading lamp. A small desk and chest of drawers, obviously antiques as well, sat in a corner. Perched on the edge of the windowsill, a lavender bouquet gave off a sweet and enticing aroma. The pictures on the walls represented the town of Chandeniers, adding the final, perfect touch to the room.
"The bathroom is through there," Marine indicated as I entered. "There are some extra blankets and towels in the cupboard. If you need anything just let me know. I hope you'll be comfortable."
"I'm sure I will be." I couldn't contain my enthusiasm. "This is amazing! Everything in this house is amazing."
"Thank you. I got everything from bargain hunting and yard sales and renovated all the furniture in the inn myself."
"Everything? That must have taken ages!"
"It did, but I enjoy it so I don't mind. I'm working my way slowly through the furniture, replacing what came with the house with my own projects. It's my hobby, but I don't have as much time to devote to it in the summer."
"Well, kudos to you. You not only have exquisite taste, you also have a knack for making all this old stuff look new again."
"Thank you! I love anything that has to do with the past."
"Oh? Are you something of a historian?"
"Not really, but I do know quite a bit of history, especially if it's local. I've done some research on the town's past."
Interesting. Duly noted.
"Oh, and before I forget, here's the Wi-Fi code for the inn, and your key." She handed me a small card and a keyring.
"Thank you. This is perfect."
"Do you need anything else?"
"I don't think so."
"I'll let you settle in. Oh, and I have some hibiscus mint juice in the fridge. Would you like a glass?"
"How nice. Yes. Thanks a lot!"
"Do you want me to bring it up here, or should I serve it in the garden out back? It's lovely under the trees."
"Garden, no hesitation."
"Then come and join me when you're ready."
"I'll be right down."
When Marine had left, I fished my phone out of my handbag and snapped a few pictures of the room that I immediately forwarded to my best friend, Bea. The poor thing was no doubt even now working in her air-conditioned bank office in Santa Rosa.
Her reply came almost immediately.
I hate you.
I laughed and sent back:
Love you too.
Way nicer than the places you've been staying in for work so far.
Totes. I'm in love.
When are you starting your investigation?
Soon as I'm settled in and have finished my hibiscus juice.
Luxury at its finest!
Embracing the holiday feeling!
I want updates. Every minute.
My supervisor's here. Meeting in five. See you later, Ms. Family Girl.
Later, alligator. Good luck with the meeting. Call you as soon as I've done recon.
I then fired off another message to my fiancé to tell him more or less the same thing, but with a lot more "<3." I finished with:
Call you soon? I know you're busy but I miss you! <3 Luv ya.
I put the phone away. Given the time, I was ready to bet Spencer was in a meeting and wouldn't be able to reply for a while. But a beeping sound almost immediately proved me wrong. Against all expectations, my lawyer boyfriend had written back.
Hello you!! Got to go to a meeting but promise, I'll try to call as soon as I'm out. Miss you too. <3 Be careful and keep me posted. Luv ya more.
I read it several times, happy at the thought we'd be able to speak at last. Between the time difference — a horrible thing, I cursed whoever had invented it — my work and his, over the last few weeks our communication had come down to brief texts sent between meetings, lunches and business interviews. I had reached the point where I'd called his answering machine a couple of times in the middle of the night or early in the morning just to hear the sound of his voice. I make no apologies. I missed my fiancé, and sometimes when life doesn't deliver, you have to resort to desperate measures. So I made do with his answering machine and waited for things to get better.
I'd been waiting for things to get better for quite some time now.
Spencer was about to become the youngest partner of the prestigious Wilson, Murdoch and Finch legal office. He'd been working for two years now on a huge case — something to do with corruption inside a pharmaceutical company that had cost several dozen people their lives — that required all of his attention and time. So it wasn't unusual for me to spend my evenings alone while he locked himself in the office or met with colleagues.
I wasn't happy with our situation. To pretend otherwise would be a lie. Solitary evenings were long and weekends even longer. But it was the price to pay to be with him, and I had known it when I had signed up for a relationship with him. Spencer was a top-notch lawyer, and he never backed down on anything. I'd never seen him sacrifice his work for his private life. The stakes were too high, and they were worth neglecting our time together for a while. When the trial was over, I'd have him all to myself again, and I'd be able to show him just how proud I was of him.
In the meantime, I had to be patient.
I clicked on the answer bar and typed a new message, my fingers flying over the digital keyboard.
Be careful too. And don't forget to eat. Wouldn't want you to lose those perfect muscles of yours.
I always knew you only liked me for my looks.
Of course! Why else would I marry you? ^^ Go and save the world. Itneeds you. Xoxo
I smiled as I closed the messaging app and put my phone down. I sat on the bed and grabbed my handbag — or rather, the suitcase, masquerading as a handbag — and extracted the folder containing the reason for my presence here. An old, yellowing photograph, the edges slightly scorched, whose every detail I knew by heart.
My paternal great-great-great-grandmother.CHAPTER 2
Angers November 1899
It is a truth universally acknowledged that what can go wrong in life ... will go wrong. Thus, it is always whenever one has forgotten their umbrella at home that it starts raining — both quite suddenly and unexpectedly hard for November.
This is not my lucky day, Gabrielle thought glumly. Any more trouble and this would read like a comedy of errors.
She looked up from beneath the entrance porch where she'd taken shelter and sighed.
The entire day had been a nightmare.
She'd woken tired — hardly surprising since she had been reading well into the early hours of the morning — and she'd needed to summon her entire force of will to part with the cozy comfort of her goose-feather quilt and pillow. It had taken a truly herculean effort to rise. The ambient humidity had further made it impossible to brush and style her hair. The hairpins she usually generously littered her thick, unruly waves of hair with had chosen this as the perfect time to hide — of course they had.
The rebellion had continued with her hot chocolate deciding that it belonged on her dress rather than in her cup. Gabrielle had barely avoided a serious burn and had to return upstairs to change — and fix her hair again, as the painstakingly tied knot had come loose when she'd peeled her stained garments off. With so many mishaps, it was a miracle she'd managed to open the bookstore on time. By the time she'd flipped the sign on the door, Gabrielle had been expecting the worst to be yet to come.
But contrary to her expectations, the rest of the morning had been relatively calm — apart from a definite lack of cooperation from the ladder she had used to retrieve a book on botanicals. Only one thing had kept her from falling flat on her face with an utter lack of anything resembling grace or balance — the presence of Étienne, the store employee.
That had almost been the last straw. Gabrielle had given serious thought to going back to bed, where she would not risk a major accident every few minutes. But the prospect of seeing Sophie for lunch had proven too alluring. The brief moments she could share with her best friend were all too rare and precious for her to give up on them for so small an inconvenience. As the clock struck twelve, she'd fled the bookstore and her own bad luck as though the devil himself were on her heels.
Gabrielle noticed Sophie's excitement from the moment she sat across from her, out of breath but rather relieved to have made it in one piece without any further misadventures.
"Gabrielle, I have a marvelous idea!" Sophie exclaimed as soon as her friend sat down, even as she absentmindedly pushed the books she'd borrowed last week across the table.
"It must be truly marvelous. You look ready to skip! What is it?"
"Would you like ..." — she paused for dramatic effect, then plunged ahead — "to travel with me to Paris next May to visit the great Exposition Universelle?"
"Just the two of us? You and me?"
"Yes! Just the two of us, like we always dreamed."
"Yes! A thousand times yes!"
For an hour, they discussed their plans, eyes bright with excitement, picturing themselves dressed in their very best dresses and hats, arm in arm, strolling down the streets of the City of Lights, that magical capital of culture, romance and adventure. Men would stop and stare as Sophie walked by — they always did. They would laugh, happy and carefree, with nothing on their minds except for the fun they would have and the opportunity to discover everything Paris had to offer.
They suggested dates, worked out how much money they'd need to save to be able to afford such an extravagant trip, planned the shoes and clothes they would need to pack. But time flew by and they promised to speak of it again as they parted ways, quietly cheerful, the morning's misadventures forgotten.
Gabrielle might have managed to forget her bad luck, but it certainly had not forgotten about her. She'd barely gone three steps before the first drops of rain hit. Less than thirty seconds later, the sprinkles had turned into a downpour, soaking the precious books she carried — not to mention her clothes — and forcing her to shelter under the nearest porch roof.
Dear Lord. She sighed. She most definitely was cursed today.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Château by the River"
Copyright © 2017 Chloe Duval.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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This story made an impression on my heart. I will be reading more of Chloe's work.
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Alexandra has found a photograph from the past. It has captured her imagination. When she is in Europe for business, she decides to take a side trip to investigate the chateau in the photo. The owner of the chateau is a man named Eric and he is not happy to see her. I disliked Eric right from the start. He is very rough around the edges and just plain rude. But as the story developed, he sort of grew on me. He and Alex have a strange relationship which grows into much more than expected. Took a while and it was a struggle, but they made it in the end. This tale captivated me from the very beginning. The historical setting of the chateau and the troubles surrounding the upkeep are fascinating. Then the relationship between Eric and Alex…well, let’s just say, it is not a bed of roses. These two do team up FINALLY to try and save the chateau. I enjoyed this read. The history, the setting, and the characters are a great combination. I received this novel from Kensington Press via Netgalley for a honest review.