Ellen Crosby

The Bordeaux Betrayal

For Tony and Belinda Collins

Wherefore by their fruits shall ye know them.

 —Matthew 7:20

Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk.

That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.

—Ernest Hemingway

Chapter 1

St. Thomas Aquinas once said sorrow could be alleviated by good sleep, a bath, and a glass of wine. Lucky him, if that’s all it took.

Hector died shortly before Labor Day, the last event in a tumultuous summer weighed down by heat straight out of hell’s waiting room. He’d been like a father to me, managing the crew at my family’s vineyard in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains for the last twenty years. His death came hard on the heels of my second auto accident in the past three years, when the front end of my old Volvo collided with the back end of a large buck. And that event had been preceded by Hurricane Iola, whose wicked ways wreaked havoc just as we were about to harvest our white wines. If the month of August had been a fish, I would have thrown it back.

Fortunately autumn arrived in a kinder mood. The withering temperatures receded and the low-slanted sunlight washed everything in softer colors, blurring the sharp edges of the shadows. The air no longer smelled as though it had been boiled and the relentless metallic sound of the cicadas began to wane. Tonight, on an October Indian summer evening, the bullfrogs’ serenade sounded plaintive.

I’d invited Mick Dunne, my neighbor and a man with whom I’d had a white-hot affair last spring, to dinner and a lecture on wine at Mount Vernon. Though we’d only just arrived, he’d glanced at his watch three times in the last fifteen minutes. Each time, I pretended not to notice.

When Joe Dawson, my cousin’s fiancé, had given me the tickets, I figured asking Mick would be a good way to let him know I’d moved on since last spring and that we could still do things together as friends. Besides, he’d just planted thirty acres of vines on land adjacent to mine. We needed to get along.

Right now, though, unless George Washington himself turned up to offer Mick a tour of the place or told him they could nip down to the whiskey distillery, I already regretted the evening. Though Mick tried to mask his restlessness with well-bred feigned interest as only the British can, I knew he was bored.

We walked along a shady path that bordered an expanse of lawn known as the bowling green. Washington had planted some of the larger trees—tulip poplars, white ash, and elms—himself. I reached for Mick’s arm to keep from stumbling on the uneven terrain. Ever since a near-fatal car accident three years ago left me with a deformed left foot, I needed a cane to keep my balance. Mick glanced down as I slid my arm through his. Another opportunity to peek at his watch.

I gave it one more try. “There’s a fabulous view of the Potomac River from the other side of the mansion. Wait until you see it.”

“Really? How marvelous.” It sounded like I’d just offered him a cigarette before he got the blindfold.

“There’s also a sundial in the middle of the courtyard. Too bad it’s nearly sunset or you could check the time there, too,” I said.

There was a moment of stunned silence before his laugh erupted like champagne fizz. “Sorry, love. I’m distracted tonight.” His arm slid around my waist. “I didn’t mean to be rude.”

Love. Had the word slipped out, or was it intentional?

“Why did you come tonight, if you’re not interested in this lecture?” I asked.

His arm tightened. “I am interested. But not in some woman giving a dull talk.”

My face felt warm. “Joe said she’s supposed to be riveting.”

She was also Joe’s friend. I moved out of the circle of Mick’s arm.

“Not many people here,” he said. “She can’t be too riveting.”

“That’s because it’s a select audience. I’m sure she’ll be fascinating.”

He stuck his hands in his pockets and grinned like I’d said something amusing. “Have you read her book?”

“I haven’t even read the newspaper since August we’ve been so busy with harvest.”

“Then let’s have dinner and slope off. Come on, Lucie. Who cares if we stick around?”

“Joe cares. I promised him we’d stay for the whole evening. Anyway, I think her book sounds interesting. She followed Thomas Jefferson’s voyage through the European vineyards when he was ambassador to France.”

I got another gun-to-the-head look from him. “Why isn’t she at Monticello if she wrote about Jefferson? What’s she doing here?”

“Because Jefferson bought a lot of George Washington’s wines for him. And she is going to Monticello. I think Joe said she’s going to wrap up her book tour in Charlottesville. She just finished traveling around California. Now she’s doing the East Coast.”

We had come to the ivy-covered colonnade connecting Washington’s servants’ quarters to the main house. In the distance the river gleamed like dull pewter. I led Mick to the embankment where the ground fell away, leaving a view of the Potomac that stretched to the horizon. In the dusky light, the river—friendlier to pleasure boaters and fishermen where it snaked ribbonlike past Washington—looked vast and depthless here at Mount Vernon.

We stood in silence until finally he said, “You were right. It’s an incredible view.”

I had not expected him to sound wistful. “I thought you’d like it.”

“Those cliffs remind me of Wales.” His voice was soft with nostalgia. “We used to go up from London on summer holiday when I was a boy. My Lord, how I loved it there. On the north coast, the castles are perched on the bluffs just like this, except it’s all rocks to the Irish Sea.”

I believe that it is possible to miss a place you love so much that the ache is physical. I’d read that Washington pined terribly for his home when he was away from it—which was often—fulfilling his duties as commander in chief of the Continental Army or in Philadelphia as the first president. Staring at his cherished view, which had changed little since he and Martha looked out on it centuries ago, I knew I, too, would be homesick for this breathtaking place, just as Mick sounded homesick now for the north coast of Wales.

A bell rang behind us and I turned around. The western sky was the color of liquid gold and the mansion appeared to be sitting inside a rim of fire. Silhouetted figures began to converge on the columned piazza.

“The tour must be starting,” I said. “I wonder where Joe is.”

“He’ll turn up.” Mick’s arm slid around my waist again and this time I let it linger. As we reached the house, I

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