Will the Frenchman discover he has a secret son?
Tabby fell in love with Christien Laroche, but then tragedy struck and Christien wanted nothing more to do with her. How could Tabby confess to the arrogant Frenchman that she was expecting his baby? Now Tabby has made a new life for herself and her son. But Christien is back! What if he discovers little Jake’s existence?
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A QUESTIONING frown in his keen dark eyes, Christien Laroche studied the portrait of his late great-aunt, Solange. A quiet woman who had never made a wave in her life, Solange had nonetheless startled her entire family with the contents of her will.
‘Extraordinary!’ a cousin commented with fierce disapproval. ‘What could Solange have been thinking of?’
‘It grieves me to say it but my poor sister’s mind must have weakened towards the end,’ an aghast brother of the deceased lamented.
‘Vraiment! To leave a piece of the Duvernay estate away from her own family and favour a foreigner instead…it is unbelievable!’ another exclaimed in outrage.
In a more laid-back mood, Christien would have been struggling not to laugh at the genuine horror that his relatives were exhibiting. Wealth had not lessened their passionate attachment to the family estate for that atavistic link back to the very land itself still ran deep and strong in every French soul. But they were all overreacting for the bequest was tiny in terms of monetary worth. The Duvernay estate ran to many thousands of acres and the property in question was a little cottage on a mere patch of ground. Even so, Christien had also been angered by a bequest that he considered both regrettable and highly inappropriate. Why had his great-aunt left anything at all to a young woman she had only met a few times several years earlier? That was the biggest mystery and one he would have given much to comprehend.
‘Indeed, Solange must have been very ill for her will is a terrible insult to my feelings,’ his widowed mother, Matilde, complained tearfully. ‘That girl’s father murdered my husband, yet my own aunt has rewarded her!’
Lean, strong face grim at the speed with which his parent had made that unfortunate connection, Christien remained by the elegant windows that overlooked Duvernay’s glorious gardens while the lady who acted as his mother’s companion comforted the weeping older woman. Although almost four years had passed since his father’s death, Matilde Laroche still lived behind lowered blinds in her huge Paris apartment, wore the dark colours of mourning and rarely went out or entertained. Christien was now challenged to recall that his mother had once been an outgoing personality with a warm sense of humour. Indeed in the radius of her unending grief he felt helpless for neither counselling nor medication had managed to alleviate her suffering to any appreciable degree.
At the same time, it was only fair to acknowledge that Matilde Laroche had suffered a devastating loss. His parents had been childhood sweethearts and lifelong best friends and their marriage had been one of unusual intimacy. Furthermore, his father had only been fifty-four when he died. A prominent banker, Henri Laroche had rejoiced in the vigour and health of a man in the very prime of life. However, that had not protected Christien’s father from a cruelly premature and pointless death at the hands of a drunk driver.
That drunken driver had been Tabitha Burnside’s father, Gerry. In all, five families had been shattered that appalling night by just one car accident and Henri Laroche had not been the only casualty. Gerry Burnside had also managed to kill himself, four of his passengers and leave a fifth seriously injured, who later died.
That fatal summer, four English families had been sharing the rambling farmhouse situated just down the hill from the imposing Laroche vacation home in the Dordogne. His late father had remarked that he should have bought the property himself to prevent it being occupied throughout the season by a horde of noisy holiday-makers. Naturally no Laroche would have dreamt of mixing with tourists, whose sole idea of amusement seemed to rest on getting sunburnt, drunk and eating too much. However, his parents had only stayed at their villa on a couple of occasions that summer and most weeks, aside of visits from his friends and initially from his lover at the time, Christien had been left in peace to work.
There had been three Burnsides in the large party staying at the farmhouse: Gerry Burnside, his youthful second wife, Lisa, and his daughter from his first marriage, Tabby. Before Christien had met Tabby, he had only ever seen the two young women at a distance and would not have been able to distinguish one from the other. Both Lisa and Tabby had been shapely blondes and, not only had he initially assumed that they were sisters he had also assumed that they were of a similar age. He had had no idea whatsoever that one of them had been still only a schoolgirl…