About The Book....
It’s been five years, and Lizzie Lambert has decided it’s time to try to make things right with her estranged mother. She’s made a success of things in Cannes, she’s bringing up a lovely little boy on her own, and she’s ready to put the past behind her.But it seems Lizzie’s mother has moved on as well. She’s moved her toyboy – a muscle-bound vintner named Cal – into the family home, and given him the run of the land that was meant to be Lizzie’s inheritance!
Cal’s wine business frequently takes him to France, and suddenly wherever Lizzie goes, he’s already there – meddling, giving unsolicited advice, saving her little boy’s life and stealing her heart. But none of this changes the fact that he’s her mother’s lover…
CHAPTER ONE OF THE VINEYARD
‘Stop the car!’ Lizzie’s heart beat rapidly as heat and perspiration prickled her fair skin sending a trembling through her limbs. A murky sky above gathered dark, heavy clouds.
‘What? I was gonna drive in the gate Miss.’ A rotund figure twisted his neck.
‘No don’t go in yet. Give me a minute out here. Please.’ Her command was clear if croaky. Impatient eyes rolled as the driver steered his taxi close to the holly hedge.
‘We’re blocking the lane Miss’.
Ignoring him, she inhaled deeply and chanted. ‘Be strong.’
‘Miss, I’ve got another fare. I can’t hang around!’
Lizzie continued her chant, ‘Be strong,’ and thumped her knuckles into her chest like it was iron. The driver scowled curiously, his sagging eyes following her from his mirror.
‘Miss, how long you gonna be? It’s gonna cost you more.’
‘Jesus, what is your problem?’ she thundered. ‘There’s a name for people like you. She grabbed her purse. How much do I owe you?’
‘Four quid Miss.’
Only having notes she paid him five pounds.
‘It’s not a tip. Give it to a charity.’ She pelted out of the door and swiped her bulky weekend bag from the seat.
She strode indignantly out of the taxi’s path. ‘Fuckwit,’ she mouthed and, catching sight of the familiar gate almost before her, came to a halt. Reality returned, quivering through her. The oak five-bar gate still hung from the sturdy stone wall, swept back open into the shingle neatly edged along the drive. The fullness of the evergreen Cedar dominated the lawn as she remembered, whilst a thicket of foliage, recently blossomed in the cool May temperature, obscured the main window. This is where she grew up, her home. Finally she was back. A cold gust of wind blew into her from the bruised sky and, pulling her jacket closer to her chest, her heart thundered as she prepared to face her mother after so long. She was determined, for once, to stay in control. Taking a deep breath she chanted ‘strong, strong, strong,’ as she approached the familiar black front door.
‘No going back now,’ she muttered reaching for the bell and subconsciously squeezing the tension through her hands. Moments later she came face to face with her nemesis, a tall, slender and, she noted, greying woman. Her mother. They gazed suspiciously at each other and Lizzie’s throat locked, her lips inert. Not a good start. Silence screamed between them until her mother’s darting, muddy eyes suddenly gave a flash of recognition and her arms thrust out.
‘Lizzie. Oh Lizzie! What a surprise’ Caroline Lambert hurtled over the threshold and clutched the graceful figure tightly. ‘My goodness, thank God you’re alive.’
‘Hello Mum.’ Lizzie’s eyebrows shot up, shocked to have caused such delight in this woman. ‘I hope you don’t mind me turning…?’ Lizzie’s voice was muffled, ensnared in her mother’s shoulder,
‘Well. Wow! What a surprise. I can hardly believe it - turning up out of the blue. I mean after, what, five years or more. Why didn’t you let me know you were coming?’
‘I don’t know,’ she said finding a gap to breathe, ‘I didn’t think you would want to…’
‘What…? Why on earth wouldn’t I want to see my own daughter?’ Caroline sniffed, wiping her eyes and easing Lizzie gently in over the step. ‘Although you gave me every reason not to I suppose - deserting not only us but your studies and your future. What were you thinking dear girl!’
Lizzie instantly felt the clutch of guilt her mother always managed to instil, flow into every nerve. Be strong, be strong. She fought but somehow it still lurked. Be strong you are a grown woman yourself now. After years of being independent and tough, it was hard to imagine fear still caged her. Caroline Lambert was still gripping her daughter like she was scared to let go and Lizzie could feel her chest tighten.
‘You have no idea what you put me through?’ said her mother loosening her grip, ‘Years of not knowing what happened to you. I…I did wonder if you… you were dead.’
‘I know. I’m sorry. I…I sent you a letter explaining.’
Caroline stepped back with a searching look and affectionately tousled her daughter’s hair whilst her gaze roved from tip to toe and back again.
‘That was a long time ago. Anything could have happened since. I really thought you had been murdered and buried or chopped up in a heap in the furthest depths of an isolated forest. What else could I think?’ Caroline sighed with wide questioning eyes and then Lizzie saw her face was alight; a big smile, an excited smile swept over her face. ‘But it’s lovely to see you, not a child anymore either, a woman. You’ve blossomed beautifully. Come on in,’ she commanded, guiding her inside.
Lizzie hauled her bag up from the doorway not quite believing her ears. The chill within her from the hostile stormy air warmed a little. This woman was different. Why on earth was her mother being so nice? She was confused, desperately trying to understand her behaviour because she didn’t recognise this woman. She followed her into the hall, observing a compactness and darkness of a space she swore was once larger.
‘I hope you are planning to stay darling?’
‘If that’s ok?’ Lizzie’s teeth clenched at the imposition.
‘Of course. That’ll be wonderful. So, where are you living now?’ Her mother paused to open the inner lobby door. A welcoming brightness escaped from the kitchen.
‘In Cannes,’ Lizzie told her. Catching sight of her own weary reflection on an inner door, she pinched the smooth skin of her cheeks, adding a healthy blush, and brushed a hand through the crown of her long chestnut hair, adding a little height.
‘I’m afraid your room is still as it was,’ Caroline continued, ‘I thought you’d be back before now of course and I couldn’t bear to touch it. But I’ll put some fresh sheets on the bed. The room will smell stale I’m sure. Here pop your bags down here for now and we’ll get a drink.’ Without acknowledging Lizzie’s answer, she gestured her to follow.
She still doesn’t listen, Lizzie reflected. She scanned the old wooden floorboards for somewhere to place her weekend bag.
‘Thank you,’ she murmured sliding the bag into a recess and gaining a little more comfort and strength. ‘You look really well Mum,’ the words slipped out easily but she never recalled giving such compliments to her before. It was true though, she’d detected an inner light shining from her mother’s autumnal brown eyes, which radiated out giving a luminescence to her slightly tanned skin. Framed by dark, almost straight eyebrows, her face took on a well-defined less rounded shape than Lizzie recalled, with higher, protruding cheek bones. She guessed her mother had either lost weight or had work done. Only fine lines around her eyes, lips and jaw hinted at her age, whilst her taller leanness added a fetching youthfulness Lizzie admired.
‘I feel great actually. I’ve just returned from a long weekend in Barcelona and the weather was glorious, as I am sure you would know. You meant Cannes, in the south of France I take it?’ No her mother hadn’t changed, Lizzie thought, sensing her sarcastic tone. Caroline continued delighting in the opportunity to speak of her favourite subject. Herself!
‘I joined a gym last year too. Instead of one class a week in the village hall, the new health club has a pool as well as lots of different classes. I enjoy yoga and Pilates and I have my own personal trainer!’ Lizzie, knowing her mother was now in self-mode, listened dispassionately and wondered if her mother was more nervous than she was herself, the way she was gabbling. Truth be told, she wished her mother would simply apologise for being such a selfish, domineering harridan of a mother. She followed her through the lobby and into the kitchen.
‘Coffee, darling?’ Her mother asked.
‘Yes that would be lovely,’ she said, entering the familiar kitchen. It had barely changed. She glanced at the very oak farmhouse table she’d sat at daily as a teenager, after school. She doing her laborious homework whilst her mother, pretending to prepare evening meals, secretly guarding her. Running her fingers over the wood, she slipped out a smile as an image of an uncut seedy bloomer from Brown’s bakery brought a flurry of fond memories of the brighter aspects of her childhood. The days when her father and gran were alive, when they were all there for her, including her grandfather. The time when her mother was so pre-occupied in London.
‘Where’s grandad?’ her voice croaked, but with the kettle rattling, her mother didn’t hear.
Lizzie smiled, recalling the sunny Sunday morning strolls to the newsagents with her father to buy newspapers, sweets and always a treat for Cider, her adorable golden retriever. She treasured those times with both and even now couldn’t believe her daddy had been taken from her when she was just thirteen, thirteen whole years ago. She had even overheard her grandfather say it killed her grandmother too. She’d died a year later. Luckily though, she grinned fondly, she still had her grandfather who she remembered as extremely loving and just like her father, although with big spiky whiskers. She so looked forward to seeing him again. They were both her saviours, her escape from the reins of her absent and later controlling mother.
Ironic really, although she despised her mother for her overbearing ways, being here in the kitchen with her, caused an unexpected wave of tenderness to roll over her, which was somewhat soothing. That was a far better welcome than she’d imagined. Lizzie regarded her mother quizzically as she busied herself making the coffee. Just as she was going to ask her mother about her grandfather again, her attention was diverted as the back door opened.
Kicking off his boots in the back lobby a tall, rugged-looking stranger appeared. He looked, she guessed, early- to mid-thirties. He wandered in like it was his home while she slipped into a seat at the table unacknowledged.
‘Caroline, you don’t have a pair of tweezers I could use do you? I have a splinter,’ he said, speaking to her mother and rubbing the top of his index finger with his other thumb. A glittering wedge of fringe swept over his high forehead as he examined the sore.
‘Yes, in the drawer there,’ her mother pointed to the oak cabinet, ‘the one at the top.’
‘Thanks,’ he nodded casually, moving to the corner and opening the drawer. His hand shuffled around inside and then he lifted the tweezers to his splinter.
‘The light isn’t great or my eyesight’s fucked.’ He dug at his finger for a few seconds and then glanced up, arresting Lizzie’s eyes. She felt a heat rise from her feet as his eyes pierced hers. She swallowed hard in an attempt to get her heart back down into its rightful pace.
‘Oh I’m so sorry. Hi. Sorry didn’t mean to intrude.’ Their eyes remained locked for so long it became uncomfortable and Lizzie felt a blush rise to her cheeks. She prayed he hadn’t noticed.
‘Oh Cal, this is my daughter Lizzie,’ her mother broke in. ‘Rather a surprise visit,’ she added, acknowledging the fact, really only to herself.
‘Pleased to meet you Lizzie’ he said, offering his hand to her.
She struggled to find breath to reply as her hand automatically lifted to his in response.
‘Lizzie, this is Cal. He has a project here for a while.’
Lizzie prized her eyes away from him, seeing her mother’s eyes avert swiftly and her mouth twitch. Peering back she forced a fleeting smile as Cal made a polite nod to depart and she watched as his head butted the door whilst his sultry steel grey eyes failed to steal themselves away. She almost laughed but the room was deathly quiet and she daren’t even breathe in the silence for fear her heart would pound its way out of her chest. Tension crowded the room as he peered back at her mother and she quickly concluded they had something to hide. Lovers possibly?
‘I can’t stop now. See you again soon I hope.’ Cal said, cutting the strained atmosphere as he forced his feet back into his boots before trundling off back through the lobby. Lizzie then breathed out, releasing the blood back to her heart. Here, in the home that she grew up, just a few feet away from her was the most gorgeous man she had ever clapped eyes on. His smile, ripe plum lips revealing just enough of the beautiful set of teeth beneath, was tantalising. Who was he, she wondered. Just her luck if this man was her mother’s boyfriend, lover or husband maybe? Definitely a ‘toy boy’ though. He can’t be any more than thirty five! The thought of her puritanical mother breaking one of her own sacred rules, tut, tut! She sniggered to herself.
Caroline ran to the door and called out to Cal before he’d walked very far. He turned back as ordered. She spoke softly and Lizzie couldn’t quite hear; she thought she heard ‘maybe by Friday’. She now felt like an intruder. Caroline’s body language wasn’t subtle as she flicked her head backwards to point to her. Lizzie found herself fidgeting with a coaster on the table trying to appear unconcerned. Was she invading their love nest? As she dared to snatch a peek up at the window, so did the couple outside, both peering at her like she was a new species of animal in a zoo.
A few moments later she heard Caroline ‘Ok, see you later.’
Lizzie searched for a distraction and swung her small handbag, still on her shoulder, round to her front, trying to appear uninterested as her mother marched back through the lobby and back into the kitchen. Caroline rubbed her hands before clasping them in a hold close to her breasts.
‘Sorry, just reminding Cal of something. So, what brings you home?’ she breezed her attention back to her daughter. Lizzie paused, her mind scouring for clarity. Suddenly there was more to feed her imagination than she could handle. Recovering quickly, she blew out a sigh and rubbed her brow to wipe the moisture still beading there from her previous breathlessness. She then finally managed to focus. Those well-rehearsed words gradually began to fall into position much like soldiers reassembling to their ranks. She drew a deep breath.
‘Well, I thought it was time to make amends.’ Her eyes rolled up then down as her mind processed the well-rehearsed lines. It had seemed so easy a few weeks ago when she decided she was at a stage in her life where she was settled and independent enough to consider returning to attempt this.
‘I think, or I like to think, I have grown up a bit now so I have come to let you know how sorry I was.., or am, for disappearing from university just like that, upsetting you and grandad and, possibly more importantly, for not keeping in contact.’
It had taken her years to face up to this moment and there, finally it was. Done! Now what..?
‘So what kept you so busy that you could not contact us?’
Lizzie was now unprepared! She didn’t expect to have to explain herself so quickly. What could she say? She tried to read those searching eyes. Could her mother know? No, surely not. She hadn’t told anyone except Sophie and she would never tell or even know how to contact her mother. She rubbed her palms.
‘Much of my time is spent running my business. I have my own beauty salon,’ she announced proudly, then stopped abruptly. To avoid saying too much ‘Where’s Grandad?’ she asked again.
Caroline poured the fresh, hot coffee into small mugs; the aroma teased the senses. She didn’t answer immediately but continued with the coffee, bringing it over to where Lizzie sat, her eyes focusing on the hot beverage. Lizzie was just about to repeat the question when her mother spoke.
‘Darling, I have some awfully sad news about your grandfather.’ Caroline declared, seating herself opposite and facing her daughter.
‘Oh.’ Immediately Lizzie suspected and felt a lump in her throat; terrified of what she was about to hear, she raised her hand to her mouth in anticipation.
‘Your grandfather, bless him, died last January.’
Unable to speak, Lizzie blew out a winded sigh and tears pricked her eyes. Her mother pulled both her hands into hers and rubbed her thumbs gently. A rare gesture, Lizzie thought, but irrelevant just now. She stared stunned into the moist eyes gazing back.
‘He had a massive heart attack suddenly; January the twelfth to be exact. He didn’t suffer; it happened too quickly. He died before the ambulance arrived but…,’ she squeezed her daughter’s hands, ‘he did manage to say that when I saw you, and he believed I would, to tell you that he loved and missed you dearly.’
Her mother paused. After a pocket of silence, five years of emotion burst out and her mother’s arms swiftly drew her into her shoulder.
Lizzie’s head spun. Why had she neglected her lovely grandfather? He’d done nothing wrong. Her mother had a lot to answer for. She’d never see him now. Several minutes passed as she mopped up her pain, taking tissue after tissue from her mother. She balked inwardly at her own selfishness, her own self-indulgence. It was, after all, she who had made no contact, she who did not care enough to phone, write or just leave an address. It was she who took her family for granted and could really only blame herself. She may have even been partially responsible for his death in creating stress or worry he might otherwise not have had. A vortex of guilt swirled inside her at the thought. She could never forgive herself for this. She would never see her dear, dear grandfather ever again.
Caroline, once again, pulled at the box of tissues placed on the oak table and handed the cluster over to Lizzie. ‘I suppose you’re blaming yourself now for not getting in touch?’
Wiping her face, Lizzie seethed as her mother read her like a book. Her pain now sought blame. Why should she take all the blame? If Caroline had been a real mother to her in the first place, loving like other mothers and her gran, she would never have run away. No, her mother spent most of her time in London shirking her responsibility. Enjoying the highlife with her so-called friends. Never mind that she had a child pining for her at home. And then to have gone home to her mother and admitted to her that Hugo had humiliated , as her mother predicted, dumped her at university would have been unbearable. Caroline would have wallowed in telling her daughter ‘I told you so.’
Her mind switched to the earlier presence of the stranger and she grew suspicious. Was he also under the spell of her mother’s unfaltering and selfish manipulation? Revulsion blazed from her green eyes as she prised herself away from her mother, who she now couldn’t bear the proximity of.
‘Who is that Cal guy who came into the kitchen earlier? Does he live here?’
Her mother’s eyes dimmed as she observed her daughter for a while, saying nothing, Lizzie then saw her chin dimpling while her now creasing lips quivered. Was she going to cry, Lizzie wondered? She searched the moistening eyes as her mother regained her composure ready to speak, eyes averted, fingers sweeping the silvery bob and wrapping a strand behind her ear.
‘Cal is leasing Cote Acres for a few years to establish a vineyard. He approached us, grandad and I, to lease some land rather than buy, so it made sense.’
‘Really. Good for him!’ Lizzie smarted. ‘So how do you know him?’ she urged, blatantly concluding the foolish woman had let her heart rule her head, allowing this tall stranger to take over her grandfather’s land; actually her land, her inheritance!
Caroline shrugged uncomfortably.
‘A friend introduced us at the wine club in the village. I thought the extra income would be useful. He’s experimenting with different grapes to produce good quality English wines, in particular sparkling wines like Champagne so it seemed like a perfect solution. Your grandfather was very proud that the vines from his land produced such a lovely wine.’
‘But that land isn’t yours to lease out,’ Lizzie voice rose, ‘Cote Acres is the land Grandad promised me for my equestrian centre.’
Lizzie saw her mother’s lips tighten as Caroline sat back.
‘Your grandfather agreed with me it would be a good idea for the farm and for a bit of extra money. It woke us up to the potential of the southerly slopes that’s for sure.’ Caroline’s voice was becoming harsh. And Lizzie was not surprised when her mother struck the table with her hand as her indignant temper briskly lashed out like a snake’s tongue. ‘You, Elizabeth Lambert, have never been aware of what has gone on here. It was you who chose to run away from us. You who didn’t care or haven’t given a damn about anyone other than yourself. I don’t suppose you ever thought about anyone here whilst gallivanting around Europe, and since your father’s death it hasn’t exactly been a luxurious ride. We’ve just about been comfortable so, even though your father made some provision, and with my work dwindling, supplementing our income was a practical solution.’
As Lizzie sat hunched, observing her mother’s fury, Caroline’s fiery features fired closer.
‘And, it made a difference to your grandfather too. He managed to afford a couple of trips he would not otherwise have had. I’ve had the opportunity to do more and, darling, no-one is taking any inheritance from you.’
‘Grandad said…’ Lizzie began.
‘That was years ago, girl. Since when did you care about him? You’ll get your inheritance when I go. Aren’t I entitled to have some pleasure or benefit from it? Anyway, it’s only a short-term agreement with Cal.’
‘Oh, how short is short term?’ Lizzie demanded, now feeling her mother was selling her a sob story.
‘Just ten years, then…’
‘What! Ten years, short term? Poor Grandad, manipulated by his daughter-in-law and her lover,’ Lizzie hurled as she watched her mother’s mouth hang open with surprise. ‘He was probably frail, vulnerable and at your mercy. How could you? You knew he wouldn’t live that long.’
‘Look Lizzie. We, your grandfather and I, agreed just ten years with a review after that,’ her mother defended herself and then, lowering her voice, continued, ‘I see that as reasonable and so should you. You can’t pretend to be interested in what is happening here when you couldn’t even be bothered to contact us for five years. You can’t then just turn up thinking you have a right to claim anything which you so obviously haven’t missed.’
Again, the truth in her mother’s argument, as always, struck her to the core making it bleed and blister, but as she saw it too, she was the victim here. She was the one betrayed. Struggling to rein in her emotions she repeated strong, and at least resisted the urge to run, to escape as she always did in fight or flight mode. She willed her legs not to dash for the door, although it was obvious there was no love to be had here.
Strong. The word flashed in her head. Fight. Finally, for the first time in her life, Lizzie released the trigger as pent up emotion shot out like ammunition. Coercing her grandfather was unforgivable.
‘I don’t care what you say, I know Grandad would have wanted me to have that land,’ she insisted, her voice trembling. ‘He would never give it to a complete stranger over me.’
‘He did, it’s true but, it was you who opted to run, hide and desert your family. I think I have the right to make decisions when it concerns my home, my future, my income.’
‘And, your lover?’ Lizzie snapped bitterly. ‘A bit young for you. How could you?’
‘Cal’s not…’ her mother started.
‘Huh! You can’t lie your way out of this one now,’ Lizzie broke in, unprepared for a showdown but determined for once to stand her ground, ‘I know when I’m not welcome, an intruder in my own home. I can’t stop you giving your inheritance away to any chancer or opportunist who feels he can wrap you around his little finger. And, I won’t disturb your seedy little love nest.’ Before she could stop herself, Lizzie’s feet backed towards the door. ‘And neither will I support you when you humiliate yourself and he has stripped you of everything you own.’
Lizzie felt the chill from her mother’s icy stare.
‘It is none of your business who my lover is or what age he is come to that. I’ll lead my life as I see fit. That’s right, run. There’s no money here if that’s all you came back for. If you cared, you would have been here or at least contacted your grandfather.’ Her mother’s barb hit as intended, cruelly.
Lizzie had heard enough. Fight Fight – you have nothing to lose now. She swallowed hard as if to steady her gun and braced her lips to fire out every bullet which had been loaded inside her over the last twenty five years.
‘Ok, did you ever stop to think why I ran? ‘Did I ever have any reason to come home? Did I ever do anything for you to make you proud? Did I ever achieve what you wanted? Did I ever dress or look how you wanted? Did I ever have the friends or relationships you approved of? Tell me, was I ever good enough? Oh, that’s right, you weren’t here for most of my childhood so you didn’t really know me. What is there to come back to?’
Now, she had to go. There was no point in awaiting an answer. She knew them all too well. She scrambled to the hall shaking her head. She grabbed her bag, her mother hovering speechless behind.
‘I really don’t know why you had me in the first place,’ Lizzie surged on. ‘Go, tend to your toy boy.’
Her body shook. How swiftly her emotions had ruptured, spilling out, baring themselves. Followed by burning tears blurring her vision as she flew towards the door. Squinting to focus, she hauled her bag over one shoulder, fumbled for the door and made her exit, striding off across the shingle.
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