Tuesday, March 31, 2015



[Chapter 11 will be available on May 1, 2015]

Charlie and Vanessa had a wonderful day out with Lucy. Everywhere they went in the purple and pink car, people smiled at them. Vanessa felt her heart overflow with peace and happiness. Maybe she needed more fun in her life. She always worried she wasn't 'living up to her potential', as her Dad suggested.
       But looking at the lifestyle of the French, and their five weeks of paid vacation!, she was beginning to realize there were other ways to live the only life you would have. Of course, the Sevigny family, as owners, didn't have five weeks of vacation, but she could see they did enjoy life.
       That evening there was another delicious family dinner, cooked to perfection by Jack. He had made a wonderful beef stew similar to one Vanessa's mother used to cook from the Julia Child cookbook. So much flavor and cooked for hours. The hearty Burgundy dish was followed by a light dessert, sliced apples with a selection of creamy cheeses. Vanessa hoped she wasn't gaining weight from all the tasty food she was served. Back home, she ate a lot of yoghurt and cereal. Simple food that didn't require recipes and cooking. She was going to miss the French attitude toward meals when she left.
       The next morning, she decided to take Charlie for a walk outside the Chateau's grounds. She hadn't done that before because there was so much for her to discover on the Savigny property. But she needed to expand her exploring. Vanessa, bent over to snap the leather leash on his gaudy collar, her crimson hair flopping over her eyes. Buying a new collar for Charlie that wasn't so fancy was still on her 'to do' list. It seemed like she'd either been too busy cooking or thinking about other things whenever she was actually in a shop where she could have bought him one. Oh well, she mused, a glitzy collar was a small thing to worry about.
       They turned out of the lane that led up to the chateau onto a country road. It was lined with tall poplars, their almost leafless branches waving in the November breeze. The surrounding fields were filled with rows of stark lavender bushes. They looked dead. But Lucy had assured Vanessa they were just dormant—waiting for the spring sun and seasonal rains to wake them up from their winter's sleep. Vanessa took deep breaths of the fresh, pollution free air, with just a hint of wood smoke.
       Charlie was in his favorite element. He enjoyed sniffing out new territory, his stubby legs churning as they carried him from one enticing smell to another. He especially liked bottoms of fence posts where he left his own calling card. Vanessa was so intent watching Charlie have fun, she didn't hear a smoothly purring car come up behind her until it stopped next to her dog and a man got out. He grabbed Charlie, jerking the leash out of her slack hand. The poor dog was barking his head off and wriggling his firm little body to escape. But the man, slapped a muzzle over his nose and held him tight. The dog-napper jumped back into the car and it sped off a gunned roar. It was a black Mercedes but Vanessa didn't get its license number.
       She was so shocked she didn't even scream. Her stunned brain finally sent her a message that it had to be that wretched Jacob Lay. If he couldn't get Charlie legally he was resorting to dog napping. How could he be so crazy about a dog, he'd never seen before?
       Vanessa pulled out her cell phone, but who should she call? Would the police even be interested? Someone stole her dog. They'd probably just laugh at her, if they even understood her English. Maybe Jack or Lucy could help when she got back. Her trip to France was turning into a roller coaster ride. Ups and downs, all around. Some good, some bad.
       She trudged back to the chateau, her heart in her walking shoes. This time when she heard a noise behind her, she whirled around, hoping it was the car bringing Charlie back. But it was just a blond man on a bicycle. Ignoring him, she walked on, until her brain kicked in and she realized she'd seen him recently. It was Ricard, the neighbor Lucy said was an enemy.
       He pulled alongside her. “Are you OK? You look distressed.”
       Her eyes teared and she tried to knuckle them away. “Some one just stole my dog!” Even if he was the competition, she didn't think he wouldn't turn his back on a helpless animal.
       “What? Are you sure?” He stopped the bike and Vanessa described what had happened.
       “Here, jump on the back. It'll be faster if we both take the bike.” He held the shiny frame steady while she sat sideways on the fender. Fortunately, it was an old bike that had one. The newer racing style bikes were free of any extraneous weight. Although Vanessa's mind was consumed with worry about Charlie and how she could get him back, there was a tiny little area that was turning over questions about Ricard. Why was he out riding an old bike? Why did an 'enemy' of the Savigny's stop to help their guest?. Did he even know she was the one who would be cooking their recipe? She had no answers and as they jounced over some ruts in the road, she had to hold on tight to his slim, firmly muscled waist.
       The bike crunched its way over the gravel in the entrance drive. Edmund must have heard the noise as he came out the front door looking amazed to see Vanessa on the back of a bicycle. She slid off and was so distressed she ran up to the very prim and proper butler and threw herself into his arms. He patted her back, swiveling his head, looking for the little white dog..
       “Where's Charlie? What happened? Why are you on a bicycle?”
       Ricard gave a slight bow and spoke in quick French. After he explained the situation to Edmund, the butler stepped quickly back into the house. Ricard turned to Vanessa and said, “I told him to call the police. He will tell them a very valuable dog has been stolen. And must be found immediately, before he is taken out of the country.”
       Vanessa's mouth dropped. “Taken out of the country! Then he'd be lost to me forever. I can't let that happen.”
       Ricard's dark blue eyes looked into hers and he promised, “I also love dogs. I will do everything I can to help you. If you need me please call.” He patted the pants of his tan biking shorts. “I am desolate, sorry. These do not have pockets. I do not have any cards. But I am sure Lucy has my number.”
       Vanessa wasn't so sure Lucy would have the phone number of an 'enemy', but thought there must be a telephone book somewhere in the vast house. She put her hand on Ricard's arm. “Thank you. Thank you for all your help. Merci. I must go in and hear what the police say.” Before she realized what she was doing, she reached up and gave him a quick kiss on his cheek.
       She walked into the huge entrance hall her heart beating with apprehension. How fast things change. Less than an hour ago she was filled with zest for life and whatever it would bring. Now she was terrified of what a turn of the world might bring. She decided she had to be brave. She could not fall to pieces. Charlie needed her to keep calm and steady and to think of ways to get him back.
Edmund with sympathy showing in his eyes, but taking a position out of hugging range, told her of the call to the police.
       “Fortunately, the officer I spoke to owns and loves dogs. He was suitably alarmed about the possibility of a dog napper roaming the countryside. A possibility of which I encouraged. Someone will be here soon to get a description of Charlie, the man, and the car. They would also like a photo of your dog. Do you have one with you?”
       Vanessa stilled her brain so she could focus. “Yes, yes, I do have a picture of him. I'll run up to get it.” She started to climb the steps, but turned to face Edmund who took a step back. She smiled. “Don't worry, I won't hug you again. But I do want to thank you so much. I appreciate all the help you're giving me.”
       Edmund called after her. “Please do not worry. We will get Charlie back.”
       Vanessa felt reassured when she heard him say the magic words, “we.”

To be continued on May 1.