The Winemaker’s Wife by Kristin Harmel Read Online (FREE)
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It is not tolerable, it is not possible, that from so much death, so much sacrifice and ruin, so much heroism, a greater and better humanity shall not emerge.
—General Charles de Gaulle, leader of the French Resistance, speaking about the impact of the Second World War
The road snaked over the lush vineyards of Champagne as Inès Chauveau sped southwest out of Reims, clouds of dust ballooning in the wake of her glossy black Citroën, wind whipping ferociously through her chestnut hair. It was May, and already the vines were awakening, their buds like tiny fists reaching for the sun. In weeks they would flower, and by September, their grapes—pale green Chardonnay, inky Pinot Meunier, blueberry-hued Pinot Noir—would be plump and bursting for the harvest.
But would Inès still be here? Would any of them? A shiver ran through her as she braked to hug a curve, the engine growling in protest as she turned down the road that led home. Michel would tell her she was driving too quickly, too recklessly. But then, he was cautious about everything.
In June, it would be a year since they’d married, and she couldn’t remember a day during that time that he hadn’t gently chided her about something. I’m simply looking out for you, Inès, he always said. That’s what a husband is supposed to do. Lately, nearly all his warnings had been about the Germans, who’d been lurking just on the other side of the impenetrable Maginot Line, the fortified border that protected France from the chaos besetting the rest of Europe. Those of us who were here for the Great War know to take them seriously, he said at least once a day, as if he hadn’t been just four years old when the final battle was waged.
Of course Inès, younger than Michel by six years, hadn’t yet been born when the Germans finally withdrew from the Marne in 1918, after nearly obliterating the central city of Reims. But her father had told enough tales about the war—usually while drunk on brandy and pounding his fist against the table—that she knew to be wary.
You can never trust the Huns! She could hear her father’s deep, gravelly voice in her ear now, though he’d been dead for years. They might play the role of France’s friend, but only fools would believe such a thing.
Well, Inès was no fool. And this time, for once, she would bring the news that changed everything. She felt a small surge of triumph, but as she raced into Ville-Dommange, the silent, somber, seven-hundred-year-old Saint-Lié chapel that loomed over the small town seemed to taunt her for her pettiness. This wasn’t about who was wrong and who was right. This was about war. Death. The blood of young men already soaking the ground in the forests to the northeast. All the things her husband had predicted.