Ambushed: a twenty-year marriage dissolved. Ambushed: a high-profile executive career hanging precariously by a thread. Ambushed: a seemingly perfect life. Stunned, beautiful and successful Silicon Valley executive Cherise Eden never saw her divorce coming. With a lucrative payout from her job, she flees San Francisco to start a new life in the Dordogne region of France. As the new owner of a posh bed and breakfast, Chateau Roufillay, she meets seductive and irresistible Francois Delacroix, a guest at the castle who sweeps emotionally fragile Cherise off her feet while unaware of his dark past. Retired Scotland Yard detective Brett Maxfield discovers his old friend, Sir Raleigh Aubrey died gruesomely-his wheelchair plummeting down the grand staircase of his manor home, Brightingham. Or, was he pushed?
Determined, Brett resolves to unravel the mystery, following the trail of bizarre clues from England to Switzerland and Bordeaux, ultimately leading to Roufillay. Lives, lies and lust intertwine as danger approaches. Trapped and frantic, Cherise needs an ally. But can she trust Brett?
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Read an Excerpt
THE DORDOGNE DECEPTION
By Sherry Joyce
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2013 Sherry Joyce
All rights reserved.
San Francisco 2006
For Cherise Eden, the idea of running a bed and breakfast chateau in the Dordogne, Perigord region of Southwestern France, was much more than a whimsical fantasy resulting from a recent large divorce settlement. It was a necessary emotional escape from San Francisco. What had been their shared apartment now felt empty and held too many painful memories. It was time to find new surroundings. The apartment was now filled with a pervasive sadness, a deafening silence. Cherise found it depressing to see her ex-husband frequenting many of the same restaurants and bars where she went with friends. She tried not to run into Andrew when he was in the city, but when she did, it re-opened a wound that would not heal.
She heard the keys rattle in the door lock and knew it wasn't Andy, but their housekeeper, Julia. Cherise dreaded seeing anyone and didn't make an attempt to get off the sofa.
"Oh Mrs. Eden, I'm so sorry. I didn't know you were home. Shall I come back at a later time?"
"It's okay, Julia. The place is a mess."
Julia tried to put on a positive face but taking one look at Cherise in her flannel pajamas, she just shook her head from side to side.
"Girl, you gotta get a grip. You can't be sittin' around and mopin' like this, week after week," she said, while putting down her handbag on the dining room table. "Men cheat. Men leave. You're gonna survive. It just takes time."
"You're right, Julia. Men are jerks," (not the word she wanted to utter, knowing a distasteful expletive would have been far more satisfying). "I'm doing the best I can."
Julia tightened the ties on her floral apron with a concerned look on her face. "Can I fix you somethin' to eat? I can't bear to see you wastin' away like this." Reluctantly, Cherise nodded her head in agreement. "You think I like spending my days sitting cross-legged on this sofa—what had been our sofa? I hate the person I've become. I used to be strong, confident, capable."
"You haven't lost those things," Julia offered, trying her best to be supportive, picking up the vase of dead yellow tulips from the coffee table.
"I know," Cherise said, "but I feel as wilted as those tulips. It's as if someone vacuumed all the energy out of my body. I've been sitting here trying to figure out how this happened to me." She reached for a box of tissues and began dabbing one lightly against her red-rimmed, swollen eyes. Her blotched stuffy nose hurt as if she had a bad head cold, and her hair was uncombed, looking like a matted rat in a windstorm.
Julia hung on to the edge of the sofa, bending her plump frame forward, reaching for the large plastic wastebasket filled to the brim with wet tissues. It was also crammed with empty bags of potato chips and numerous week-old, hastily devoured chocolate ice cream cartons that had tumbled out of the wastebasket, littering the floor.
"You know," she said, "I think it's this place that's makin' you feel worse. Look at it. There ain't no sunshine comin' in most of the time."
Cherise realized Julia was right. The deep gray walls in the apartment felt dreary, as if she were engulfed in a box without windows. What she could see through the glass, was a depressing tendril of fog, rolling in across Alcatraz.
"I'm cold," she said, as she uncrossed her legs and pulled the cream cashmere chenille throw tightly around her shoulders.
Julia studied her for a moment, feeling she had to say something. "Here's what I think Mrs. Eden. I want you to get out. Take a drive down the peninsula to Menlo Park where it's sunny. Get some decent food like salad fixin's and fruit. You gotta stop eatin' this junk." Julia pointed at an empty bag of Cheetos peeking out from under the sofa. "And heaven knows how old these rat-bait empty pizza boxes are, strewn across the dining room table!"
Cherise prepared to defend herself, crossing her arms and curling the side of her mouth into an unattractive smirk.
"Ordering take-out food is such a blessing. I don't have to fix my hair or put on make-up. What's the worst that could happen to me?"
"Honey, if I met you at the door lookin' like you do, I'd be terrified. It ain't right to scare some poor delivery boy into thinkin' you're some crazy lady." Julia meant to make Cherise laugh, but instead she burst into tears. "Honey, you gotta stop wallowin'. You're gonna meet another nice man someday," Julia offered.
"Oh God, no! I don't want to meet another man. I just want the life I had." Cherise sniffled, wiping her irritated red nose.
"Well, girl, you're gonna have to create a new life for yourself. You know, when my husband left me with five kids to raise ..."
As Julia's voice trailed off into the kitchen, Cherise tuned out the rest of Julia's words and slipped deep inside the recesses of her mind to the safety of a familiar depressed place—a beckoning abyss pulling her further down, down.
At night when she couldn't sleep, she found herself ruminating over details. Twenty years of marriage shattered. It was unthinkable he would divorce her. Andy was the one who wanted to leave. No warning. No discussion. A simple, "I want a divorce," he had said, one traumatic night, obvious anguish written all over his face. His voice still echoed, forlorn and miserable. The fact his new interest was a young, twenty-something stewardess trained to cater to passengers' needs, made it much worse. Such a cliché, the young flight attendant serving the pilot on their many shared trips together.
Cherise remembered the confrontational conversation. "Do you love her?" "I don't know," Andy had said. "I don't know what I feel anymore," he'd mumbled sheepishly staring at the carpet. She'd cringed and demanded, "Do you still love me?"
He'd paused too long and could not find the words. Exasperated, Cherise had walked out of the room and slammed the door. She'd yelled through the door, "Dammit Andy! It's simple. You either love me or you don't." He had not answered.
Looking back on it now, she realized the situation wasn't simple. He said it wasn't that he didn't love her. He just did not feel he had a place in her hectic executive life, or so he told her. She considered at the time it was a mid-life crisis for Andy, but it no longer mattered what it was. He wanted to move on without her, so she had to let him go.
"Do you want cheese on your hamburger?" Julia yelled from the kitchen.
"Yes, that'll be fine. Thanks." Cherise pulled the blanket around her shoulders tighter, trying to erase her worst memory at the courthouse, immediately after the divorce was settled. She had sobbed as Andy left with his attorney. The room had begun to tilt, she'd felt blood draining from her face, her knees wobbling. All she could do was cling to her attorney's arm while the world crumbled around her.
She remembered Andy had turned briefly toward her as he left the hallway at the courthouse seeing her standing, crestfallen, on the arm of her attorney. Cherise had wished he would walk over to comfort her, but as Andy started to move in her direction, his attorney grabbed his arm, shaking his head, telling him "No." From the look on his face as he bit his lip, it appeared perhaps Andy dreaded seeing her in so much pain. He had told her the night before he would cease to exist if he remained in the marriage. They had come to an impasse. She'd refused to quit her high-profile job, and he refused to stop flying. It seemed pointless to keep fighting and there was no way to resolve their irreconcilable differences.
"Almost finished," Julia bellowed. "Patties were frozen in the freezer. It will take a little while to cook 'em. Do you want them medium or well-done?"
"Umm ... whatever," Cherise said, while squeezing her nostrils together. The smell of freshly fried hamburger made her stomach flip. She sighed and prayed if she could swallow the hamburger, she wouldn't hurl the contents up as quickly as they went down. "I'm makin' some tea," Julia said.
"Make mine herbal," Cherise yelled, straining her voice to reach the kitchen.
Cherise scratched her head in disbelief. Now many months after the divorce, she was annoyed she was still not herself. She hated stumbling through life, distracted and disoriented. Unable to read or watch TV, she found it impossible to concentrate. Sitting on the sofa staring out the window had become her new normal.
Waves of pain and tears overcame her at the most inopportune times—in the grocery store, at church and driving to her job. Cherise cried so often on the way to work, she started carrying an extra packet of eyeliner, mascara and cucumber soaked pads to blot her puffy eyes.
Julia jolted her back to the present, handing Cherise a cup of steaming hot tea with honey and a juicy hamburger on a toasted bun, slathered with butter and mayonnaise.
"Here, eat this. You'll feel better."
"Thanks," Cherise said, taking a cautious sip of herbal tea. "I feel like I'm half dead," she groaned, clutching her stomach and stifling a gag from the smell of the greasy fried meat.
Julia put her hand on her shoulder to offer comfort. "You're sufferin' from grief. That's all. It's normal. It's gonna take time."
"Grief," Cherise grimaced, taking a small bite, "is a crappy unwelcome guest."
"I know," Julia mulled, "Grief from a divorce is not so different than an actual death. Your divorce was the death of a relationship. It's gonna' hurt because you loved him and you were together a long time."
"You know Julia, if Andy had died, I would not have to think about what he is doing now with this new woman. I wouldn't have to avoid going to cafes where I might run into him or worse—both of them."
Julia nodded, listening patiently while lifting the second half of the hamburger bun to Cherise's face. "Eat a few bites. Please eat more. You'll feel better."
Cherise complied, like the dutiful child she had become at the moment. Julia patted her on the knee, and then abruptly stood up with her head tilted in exasperation, her arm resting on her hip. "You ain't got no ma or pa or siblin's, which is a shame, so I'm doin' my best to be your momma and your friend right now. You're gonna' pick yourself up and dust yourself off," Julia continued, "I want to see you gettin' in the car and takin' yourself to work tomorrow with a new attitude. No more sitting around wrung out like a wet mop. You deserve better than you got with Mr. Andy, but life ain't gonna' fix itself. You gotta be the one to fix the rest of your life. Be strong and good things will happen to you. I just know it. Promise me you'll try?"
Cherise hugged Julia and mumbled a weak "I'll try, I promise. I ate the hamburger, didn't I?"
Julia gave her a hearty laugh. "Yes you did, uh huh, yes you sure did." Julia finished cleaning and after she left, for the first time in weeks, Cherise easily drifted off to sleep.
As she drove to work the next day, Cherise didn't cry. She sat in her office, recognizing she needed to contend with the realities of her workplace. Even as she tried to manage her job responsibilities, Cherise realized she could no longer focus and sustain a high-profile executive level Silicon Valley marketing job. Although her boss was somewhat understanding about her divorce, his focus on the bottom line motivated his fear and concern for his own position, making him less tolerant of her inadequate performance.
Cherise muttered to herself, "I wonder if I should resign. I'm making absent-minded, costly mistakes and I'm sure I am going to get fired sooner or later." Human Resources had emphasized that business had no place for a grieving employee beyond what was considered normal, despite the fact there was no 'normal' for getting through grief. If someone close died, the employee received only three days off to attend the funeral and heaven forbid it was necessary to fly to some other location. The company attitude was, Mend your emotions with a stiff upper lip and be ready for work on the fourth day.
"What's normal about that?" Cherise asked herself. "Andy left me. Am I supposed to be back to normal in three days?" Right now, normal meant floundering at work. "I'm doing everything I can to stay on schedule," she had told a co-worker, with a look in her eyes confirming the terror she was feeling.
When Cherise missed a major critical deadline for launching the company's new product line, her supervisor's patience wore thin as rice paper. Brad Jenkins, her boss, walked into her office, closed the door, and sat in a chair in front of her desk, leaning toward her with a stern look.
"Cherise, it's been months now and I'm getting a lot of pressure from the Board about your performance," he spoke unflinchingly. Silver flecks in his hair matched his steely eyes, now narrowed into slits.
"I know," she stammered, avoiding the drama of begging him for a little more time to adjust to the trauma of her divorce. Brad was a well-respected CEO and Cherise felt she had let him down. They both sat there looking at each other. He did not fire her outright and she did not offer her resignation—at least not yet. There seemed to be no way out of the impasse. Brad rose from the chair, shaking his head at her with a mixture of respect and remorse for the inevitable. As he walked toward her office door, he grasped the doorknob and then turned to her and spoke in a decisive tone, "Cherise, I think you know what you have to do." The door closed so hard, the glass window panels vibrated.
Now rattled, Cherise bit the eraser off her pencil, knowing the gauntlet had been thrown down. She either had to resign or she was going to be fired. Treading water in a calm sea was one thing—staying afloat in a vortex was a totally different challenge.
Life has a way of stabbing, twisting the knife and dumping the unsuspecting victim headfirst into the ocean. You expect to drown. You prepare for it, welcome it. Then fate steps in and tosses a life raft. A few days after her CEO sat in her office, hinting she'd better resign, the life raft appeared. To Cherise's dumbfounded surprise and enormous relief, her company was acquired by a highly successful conglomerate.
She remembered being called to an executive meeting and hearing about the takeover for the first time. As shock registered on her face, her arm jerked, spilling coffee down her light blue suit. Without reservation she'd blurted out, "No shit!" and knew for the first time she had magically floated out of the vortex. Brad Jenkins wasn't going to fire her. There was no more Brad. He was released with a golden parachute severance package, as were several other executives on the top management team. New management provided her the option to either work in a less important, demoted, position or take a large severance package.
With her career at risk, Cherise wisely took the severance money and was able to cash out her vested stock options, as well. She knew it was far better to leave with one's reputation intact than to get fired later. Besides, she thought to herself. I've already been demoted as a wife. I'm not taking a demoted job position. Enough, already. I'm taking all I can get out of this merger.
In the passing weeks, Cherise felt better, stronger. Julia had been right. She had dusted herself off. Without Andy in her life, it seemed odd her job was no longer as important. How could she have made her job so crucial while he was her husband? She began to think about what to do with the rest of her life and she was grateful she had more than enough money to figure it out.
On a particularly clear evening in the city, she called Cindy, a friend from work who had managed to hang on to her job during the takeover. They agreed to meet at Cherise's favorite diner named after the foggy city offering the best fresh ocean mussels in spicy saffron broth.
Cindy walked into the diner and saw Cherise sitting in a red vinyl-seated corner booth and immediately opened her arms to give her friend a big hug.
"How are you doing?" Cindy asked, carefully folding her beige trench coat, placing it on the seat.
"I'm a walking cliché. I'm the divorced, smarter, but older wife whose mid-life-crisis dopey husband left her for a ditsy younger woman. I guess I am doing as well as can be expected although I didn't think it would be this hard. I'd always thought of myself as a strong, competent woman and now I feel wobbly and unsure of everything," Cherise sighed with embarrassment.
Excerpted from THE DORDOGNE DECEPTION by Sherry Joyce. Copyright © 2013 Sherry Joyce. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
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