At the dawn of the First World War, the small village of Briecourt is isolated from the early battles while a century-old feud between the Toussaints and the de Colvilles still rages in the streets. But when the German army sweeps in to occupy the town, families on both sides of the feud are forced to work together to hide stragglers caught behind enemy lines.***
Julitte Toussaint may have been adopted from a faraway island, but she feels the scorn of the de Colvilles as much as anyone born a Toussaint. So when she falls in love with one of the men in hiding--a wealthy and handsome Belgian entrepreneur--she knows she's flirting with danger.
Charles Lassone has been waiting in the church cellar, safe from the Germans for the moment. But if he's discovered, it will threaten the entire village--including Julitte--and could cost Charles his life.
Briecourt, Northern France
Julitte Toussaint sucked in her breath and shut her eyes, as if by closing off her own vision she, too, might become invisible. Stuck high above the ground where someone so grown--just turned twenty and two--should never be caught, she shot a fervent prayer heavenward. Please let neither one look up! She clutched the book-size tin to her chest and went death-still in hopes of going unnoticed.
"...those days may be behind us, Anton. At least for a while."
She heard his voice for the first time, the man who had come to visit the only château within walking distance of her village. The man whose blond hair had reflected the sun and nearly blinded her to the rest of his beauty. The perfect nose, the proportionate lips, the blue eyes that, with one glance, had taken her breath away.
Now he was near again, and her lungs froze. She feared the slightest motion might betray her.
She knew the other man was Anton Mantoux without looking. He was the closest thing to aristocracy the town of Briecourt knew. Though Julitte had never spoken to him, she had heard him speak many times. Whenever the mayor called a village meeting, M. Mantoux always held the floor longest.
"You'll go back, Charles? join this insanity when you could follow me the other way?"
Charles...so that was his name. "Who would have thought I had a single noble bone in my body?"
M. Mantoux snorted. "You'll follow your foolhardy king, will you?"
"Much can be said about a man--a king, no less--who takes for himself the same risks he asks others to bear. I should never have left Belgium. I know my sister never will. How can I do less?"
"Ah, yes, your beautiful and brave little sister, Isabelle.... What is it you call her? Isa?"
"Careful with your thoughts, Anton," said the man--Charles--whose voice was every bit as lovely as his face. "She's little more than a child."
"A child, but not much longer. And then you may have me in the family!"
Feeling a cramp in her leg, Julitte wanted nothing more than to climb down the tree and scurry away. Let them move on! she silently pleaded to God. Send a wind to blow them on their way before--
As if in instant answer to her prayer, a gust tore through the thick leaf cover of the beech tree in which she hid. In horror she watched the tin, dampened by her perspiring hands, slip from her grasp and take the path designed by gravity. She heard a dull thud as it bounced off the perfect forehead of the taller of the two men below, grazing the blond hair that so intrigued her.
A moment later both men looked up, and she might have thought their surprised faces funny had she planned the episode and still been young enough to get away with such a prank.
"I thank You for the answered prayer of the wind, Lord," she whispered in annoyed submission, "but not for the result, as You well know."