Vicki Denham witnesses her father crying over the grave of a woman she does not know, and she is determined to discover why.
But should she search for the answer, when it has the power to wipe away her father’s tears or to crush his soul for ever?
A stolen cigarette case, a murdered prisoner of war, a missing father, a chateau with a hidden treasure, and one family pitted against another.
It’s a story of murder and deceit where love struggles to survive.
But it isn’t over yet.
It’s time to put things right.
It’s time for a hero.
Vicki Denham watched her father approach the white cross where his grandfather was buried. Harry Denham. Killed, August 1944.
Twenty years old and a life full of promise cut short. A pregnant wife at home in England, awaiting his safe return one day. A day that would never come.
Vicki followed respectfully, a few steps behind.
“How did he die?”
“He was killed in the fighting, like so many others.”
It was a lie, but he had no wish to bring the painful truth back to life.
The answer seemed to satisfy her, and she glanced back to check on her mother, who was content to stay on the gravel path, in her wheelchair. She had started to put on a little weight, now that she was in her fifties, but she was still a beautiful woman. A fact that she was confirming to herself with the small mirror she had removed from her designer handbag, resting in her lap.
“I would have liked to have met him.”
Hearing her father’s words, she turned to look at his strong, chiselled face. She reflected on what a handsome couple her parents made, but she knew they were not in love. As a child she hadn’t realised this. But now, as a grown woman, in a loving relationship with her fiancé, she knew that the mutual respect her parents shared had nothing to do with love.
Not for the first time, she couldn’t help wondering why they were still together. Had her father stayed out of a sense of duty? How many times had the ex-soldier told her that duty mattered above all else?
Was it because of the accident? Her mother had been knocked down by a car and left paralysed from the waist down. Even as a child, she had detected a look of guilt in her father’s face. She dared to ask him once – why do you feel guilty? But he said she was wrong. From that moment on, the subject was closed.
Eventually, they made their way to the car and drove back to the chateau. It was owned by a French couple who were trying to restore it to its former glory. To fund the project, they were running it as a modest hotel. It was early days, but the accommodation still held a certain charm.
“I don’t know what possessed your father to book us into this place,” said Tanya Denham, eyeing the wallpaper. “It’s not like him to organise things when we go away.”
“I suppose he thought it was handy for the cemetery,” said Vicki, doing her best to defend her hero.
“I suppose,” said her mother grudgingly. “And that’s another thing. Why on earth did he suddenly want to visit his grandfather’s grave? He’s never shown any interest in coming here before. So why now?”
The daughter had grown tired of her mother’s moaning and walked to the sash window to take in the grounds. She tried to change the subject.
“That lake across the way … do you think it belongs to the chateau?”
“How should I know?” said her mother irritably. “Why?”
“It looks like dad’s heading over there.”
“Oh, for goodness sake. We’re supposed to be having lunch in twenty minutes. What on earth is he playing at? Go after him, Vicki, and find out what he’s up to.”
“I’m not going to spy on him, mum.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, I’m not asking you to spy on him. Just remind him that we’re supposed to be having lunch. He’s probably forgotten. Unless you’d like me to go.”
And with that, Vicki’s mother held up her arms and gestured towards her wheelchair, as if to illustrate how such a thing would be clearly impossible.
Reluctantly, Vicki made her way down the chateau’s winding staircase and headed towards the pretty lake. She found her father staring at the ground, and she was about to call after him, when she noticed something at his feet. From where she stood, it appeared to be some sort of plaque, set into a large rock. She was at a loss as to what to do, and was about to return to the chateau, when her father brought his hands up to his face. She rushed over, and he turned at the sound of her footsteps, crunching on the gravel path.
She was about to call out and ask if he was all right, when she suddenly stopped and gasped. He was looking directly at her, but something was different. Something she had never seen before in all the years she had known him. His eyes were full of tears.