Graham: Book 2 Sons of Sagamore - Excerpt

He was a man to be reckoned with, and she was every bit up to the challenge.

 Isabella Girard keeps careful watch over Charlotte Eden, the Countess of Sagamore’s chateau in Châlons, France. Loyal, trustworthy, and inseparable childhood friends, Isabella would do anything Charlotte. While she and her grandmother see to the chateau, Nolan LaBarge takes care of the winery. She has learned a lot in the three years Charlotte and her husband have moved to England, men are not to be trusted, especially English men.

 Graham Eden, Charlotte’s widowed brother-in-law, has isolated himself in the Northumberland hills in England. Unlike his wealthy high-stakes deal-making brother who excels at sitting through negotiations at court or in dreary salons, Graham prefers seclusion and the challenges and accomplishments of physical work. His brother was his rock when his wife died. He would do anything for him.

 When Isabella sends a letter to Charlotte telling her the winery is close to financial ruin and there is little money to run the chateau, the countess sends Graham to take control and straighten things out. Graham quickly finds that the person sabotaging the winery is close to Isabella.

 Graham: Book 2 Sons of Sagamore - Excerpt

Chapter One

Châlons-sur-Marne, France
March 1289

Isabella Girard tugged at her heavy wool shawl, gathering it close. She stood in front of the hearth in the Labatrelle Winery office and poked the fire. When the lick of flame was right she added the last log from the bin. It took several minutes for the warmth to penetrate her wrap. Once again, she’d let the fire burn too low. Served her right, getting so deep into the winery documents she was unaware how much time had passed.

She peeked out the window next to the hearth at the gray, watery sky and the vineyard. The wind blew in chilly gusts across the grounds making the leaves on the vines dance.

The empty wood bin stared at her. It would have to wait until she went back to the chateau. At the moment she had no desire to trudge outside for more wood.

The door swung open, letting a rush of wind in. Isabella hurried across the room to close the door and bumped into someone as they entered, sending them both stumbling.


He dropped the messages he carried and steadied her. The wind sent the parchment skittering across the floor toward the hearth. Isabella scrambled to gather the scraps of parchment before they became fuel for the fire, while Felix grabbed the latch and closed the door.

“I’ll take those. Monsieur LaBarge will be right in,” Felix said, his hand reaching for the dispatches.

Catching sight of a correspondence addressed to her, she ignored Felix’s hand, and put the others on the desk.

Again, the door opened. Had the latch not held? She glanced up, relieved that Nolan LaBarge stood in the doorway with his arms full of wood. He came in, kicked the door closed, then dumped his load into the bin.

“You are predictable. I am not surprised the bin is empty,” Nolan removed his scarf and gloves, then his ever-present satchel from his shoulder, as he walked to his desk.

“Well, there it is. You’re not disappointed.” Isabella smiled as she opened and read the dispatch.

“What’s that?” Nolan asked.

“A message from Charlotte. Felix brought it with the others.” She sat in the chair by the fire and continued to read. “Lady Charlotte and her father are doing well. She and Lord Hugh married after Christmas. She wore... you’re not interested in that. His family is interesting. His mother is a Clan Chieftain who fought to keep her people safe.”

“Chieftain? Where was her husband to let his woman fight?” Nolan opened the messages, put them into neat piles, then took out his ledger and made entries.

She lifted her gaze. Nolan didn’t know much about women.

“It was before they married and it says here, wait, let me find it.” She read the document as fast as she could. “Ah, here it is. Moira, that’s his mother, hasn’t told me everything yet, but most of the villagers at Glen Kirk are from her clan and are more than happy to talk about their fearless chieftain. If half the stories are not exaggerations, Moira is an incredible woman. She goes on to say that Hugh is working with his king on some sort of trade business.” Deep in thought, she lowered the message into her lap and stared in front of her. “This doesn’t sound like a man who would abandon his responsibilities.”

“Not those that hold his interest.” Nolan said. He was sitting at his desk and had his head down, writing in his journal.

She pulled the two sheets of parchment apart and something slipped out.

“This is a surprise,” she said, as she caught the loose scrap.

Nolan’s head popped up. He closed his journal, slipped it into his satchel, and joined her by the hearth. She handed him the document.

“A bank note,” he said.

“For the full amount. She and her father haven’t sent this much in months. I know I should be grateful, but these last six months have been difficult. Why won’t you let me tell her?”

“Lord Miles trusted us to manage by ourselves, you the chateau, and me the winery. I don’t want him to think he misjudged us. The wine is superb, but the winery is inefficient. I want to improve it. Charlotte’s grandfather tried to teach his son-in-law, but deep down everyone understood Lord Miles was an Englishman who would eventually return to England.” Nolan went back to the desk and delved into his satchel.

“I told you when you reduced the vineyard workers’ pay and delayed the harvest some would leave. Those workers were like family.”

“It was difficult, but we were fortunate to replace them with people who work for less. That’s the only way the winery will survive this year.”

“I love Charlotte. I’m happy for her, but ignoring what’s happening here is not like her. This lack of concern for the winery must be her husband’s fault. Yes, I’m sure of it. It disappoints me. I thought better of the man when he was here. I believed Charlotte was made of stronger stuff. To let a man manipulate her.” Pfft, Isabella thought. “English. Men. Neither can be trusted.”

“Here, so you don’t need to go into Châlons.” He handed her several deniers. “Give me the note and I’ll go to Monsieur Gershon and exchange it.”

She gave him the note then counted the deniers and handed half to him.

“You need money as much as I do.”

“No. I will not take money that is yours.” He pushed her hand away.

“You work harder and are more dedicated than anyone I know. Now is not the time to be proud.” She reached out to him again. “You would do the same for me.”

Nolan hesitated, then took the money she offered.

“How can you stand it? Living on what Charlotte gives you.” He stopped and took a deep breath.

“You make it sound as if I own the chateau. My grand-mère and I maintain it for Charlotte as you manage the winery for her.”

“I’m sorry. I speak out of turn to say such things. That you share half with me touches me, but it is more than I need.” He gave her back a portion.

“Grand-mère will wonder where I am.” She tucked the message into her apron.

“Thank you, Isabella. I won’t forget your generosity.”

She pulled her wool closer, opened the door, and waved good-bye.

Sagamore Hall, England

Late April 1289

Graham Eden stood at the archery field at Sagamore Hall with his older brother, Lord Hugh Eden, the Earl of Sagamore, and their younger brother, Donald. Graham nocked his arrow, smoothly drew the bow, and let loose the bolt. The arrow hit the mark left of center. He passed the bow to Donald.

“You really should stay with the sword rather than the arrow,” Donald said. “I, for one, never met anyone as quick and exacting as you with cutlery, no matter the size.”

Graham tolerated his brother’s good-natured abuse. Although, the sword was his preferred weapon.

“Is John Heustis joining us today?” Donald asked Hugh. “He’s very knowledgeable, and patient. Here I thought all you did was buy something, sell it, and then count your money. I watched him work with one of your clients who had no interest in giving you his money, and by the end of the meeting, the man was begging John to take it.”

Donald chose an arrow, examined it, then took his turn at the target.

“John is invaluable. That’s why I made him a partner.”

“Partner?” Graham asked Hugh.

Donald’s arrow struck the center of the target. He gave Graham a smug grin, then handed the bow to Hugh.

“John does a great deal of work with every client. He deserves to share in the success, and the failures if there are any.”

Graham could understand a person working harder if there was a personal reward.

“At the moment, John is at an extremely critical point in the negotiation with associates of the king. He won’t be joining us today.” Hugh turned to Donald. “You took on a large portion of his other responsibilities.”

“He needed to spend time at court. There was work that needed to be done and I was available.”

“You are a valuable part of our business. For someone who never wanted to work in trade you have done a fine job. I never thought I would secure Lord DeGraw’s account. You charmed him and got him to sign at a premium price.”

“I didn’t pressure him. I took a lesson from John. I refused to speak about the trade offering. One of your other clients mentioned how fortunate he was to be included. DeGraw hounded me all evening for an opportunity asking, then demanding that we take his money. How could we resist?”

Hugh drew the bow with ease and let his arrow fly. His arrow struck the target nestled next to Donald’s bolt.

“He asks you for forgiveness in doubting you,” Donald said. “You should be hearing from Lady DeGraw shortly. She wants to be the first to host an event to honor the new Earl of Sagamore and his new wife.”

“I understand the DeGraw parties are outstanding events,” Graham said. “I hope there will be invitations for the earl’s brothers.”

“You can be sure of that. You two have just been elevated to the most eligible bachelors in England.”

Graham glanced at Donald, who was as dumbfounded as he was. Hugh chuckled.

“Not to worry. If I can’t protect you, Charlotte will.”

“The quivers are empty and while I enjoy your company, Graham and I are ready to return to London. I enjoyed hearing the accolades, but I doubt that is the reason you wanted to speak to me.” Donald said.

“You know me too well. I am glad Graham came with you. It is good to be together,” Hugh said.

“What do you think, Graham? Is it married life or being the new Earl of Sagamore that causes our brother to be sentimental?” Donald’s question had the three of them laughing.

Graham caught sight of someone approaching. “It looks like our brotherly bonding is at an end.”

“Excuse me, m’lord.” A page handed Hugh a note. “This just arrived from London. I asked the messenger to wait for your reply.”

Hugh nodded. The page left.

“We better return to the hall. Charlotte and her father will wonder what happened to us.”

Hugh opened the note as they walked. After reading a few lines he let out a muffled laugh.

“Why are you chuckling?” Donald asked.

“This says you are difficult to deal with, but he likes your tenacity. It reminds him of himself.”

Donald tried to read over Hugh’s shoulder, but Hugh pulled the note to his chest before he could read it. “Who’s it from?”

“The king. What are you up to?” Hugh relented and handed him the note.

Donald took the message as a large grin spread across his face.

“He asked me about the new investment. He is eager to participate in the arrangement John and I created to rid you of the silver veins under your estate. I told him everything,” Donald said as he read the entire note. “Did you read this? I never doubted your father’s loyalty even while he hid his identity. Between that and your efforts to keep my treasury filled I was happy to let your father decline the title in favor of you. Earl Hugh Eden of Sagamore. It sounds good to the ear. Give my regards to the Countess, your wife. E.

“Wait. There is a postscript. And your brother Donald, that dashing young man, is worth at least a dukedom, perhaps one of the drafty castles in Wales—”

“Give me that.” Graham grabbed the message out of his hand and examined the parchment. “He said no such thing.”

Laughing, the three brothers walked through the garden into the library. Charlotte and her father, Miles, sat at the desk.

“King Edward thinks our Donald should be a Welsh duke,” Hugh said.

Charlotte and Miles glanced at him with dour expressions, a correspondence in her hand.

The levity drained from Hugh’s expression. He sat next to her. Graham and Donald followed suit.

“Edward?” Hugh asked.

“No, Isabella. She sent a lovely note of congratulations on our wedding. It’s the rest of her message that confuses us.” She handed the parchment to Hugh, her voice full of concern. “She said they’ve had to delay the harvest and as a result many of the workers moved on to other vineyards.”

“She goes on to say the houses in the lower area of the vineyard are uninhabitable.” Miles was physically upset as Hugh read on. “We ordered repairs on those houses and gave Monsieur Gershon funds with instructions to pay the bills. As far as I know, that work is completed. But here, Isabella says the lack of repairs is one reason the workers left”

“She mentioned the winery is having financial trouble,” Charlotte said.

“How is that possible?” Hugh said, reading the next page. “The report from the guild master is right here and those numbers do not show a decline in revenue. Quite the opposite.”

“Hugh, you know better than I that the guild master only looks at the income,” Miles said. “The money lender holds funds to pay the bills. According to his message several months ago, expenses increased at the winery. To avoid taking too much out of the account, Charlotte increased the monthly amount she sends Isabella and Jeanne Marie. They should have more than enough funds.”

“Yet, Isabella says there is not enough money for she and Jeanne Marie.” Hugh handed the message to Miles, who read it again as if he would find different words.

“I... I don’t understand. I thought—” Miles moved papers around on the desk and pulled one from beneath the stack. “Funds are left in the winery account to pay our expenses until the harvest is over. That’s when we settle the receipts and give Nolan his portion.” Miles shuffled more papers.

“The winery profits from last year should more than cover the expenses for this one.” Hugh drummed his fingers on the table.

“Just as I thought.” Miles held up a document, shaking it as if the information would jump off the page to prove his point. “We did pay for the house repairs. No one told me of anything exceptional that required additional work. Gershon would contact me if he needed more funds. The wine industry in Châlons is a small group of local people and the guild master’s messages have been nothing but stellar.

“My father-in-law and his partner LaBarge ran a good business. Maurice understood everything, from growing the grapes, fermenting, to putting the wine into casks. I worked with him. Maurice was a patient man eager to share his knowledge, an excellent teacher. When LaBarge died, his nephew, Nolan, took his place. The boy is bright and competent. He’s intent on keeping account of what he does and what happens at the winery. He writes everything down in his journal. He earns his forty percent.”

“Has Nolan said anything?” Hugh asked.

“Nothing. His messages are mostly positive.” Again, Miles looked through the accounts on the desk and pulled out a note. “Here is his last message. He doesn’t mention anything about financial trouble at the winery. There was a problem with drainage after some heavy storms in the lower section of the vineyard and he’s trying to save those grapes by delaying the harvest. He wants to give them more time to sweeten, but nothing more.”

“Isabella says if the men don’t return, she plans to help harvest the grapes. This is the first we’ve been told of such hardships. I don’t understand. Our workers are a close group, like family. Surely they’ll return,” Charlotte said.

Hugh stopped drumming his fingers on the table and gazed at his brothers looking from one to the other.

“Donald, you are correct. John is deep into negotiations with the king’s associates. To add to that, this estate has laid unoccupied for thirty years and there is much I must do here not only for the hall, but for the land. I hoped you would go to France and deliver the contract to DuClare and Rodigio.”

“You have only to ask,” Donald said his seriousness a departure from his teasing casual manner.

“John and I will make sure everything is ready for you. It won’t take too long. Going forward you’ll be doing more and more with them. The three of you got along well when you met in London.”

Hugh gave their little brother a sizable responsibility. Graham knew Donald was up to it even though he was smug and at times he wanted to thrash him. Donald was loyal, and good, and would take care of Hugh’s business as if it were his own.

Hugh went to his desk and took out a document.

“This will introduce you to DuClare and Rodigio.” He handed it to Donald.

Graham looked at his brother. Hugh worked hard to build his business, one coin at a time. But the responsibility of the earldom weighed heavily on him. Graham had to agree, right now he belonged here at Sagamore Hall.

As for himself, he was eager to return to Glen Kirk. He preferred caring for his fine stable of horses and riding Merlin, his prize stallion, to sitting in the salon and negotiating. He enjoyed the challenges and accomplishments of physical work.

“I cannot spare John at the moment.” Hugh turned to him. “And I have to remain here. After reading Isabella’s message I must find out what’s happening at the chateau and with Labatrelle. I need your help, Graham.”

Everything inside him told him to say no. But how could he deny Hugh? It was Hugh who held him together five years ago when Isla died, the child with her. Donald and his parents stood at his side, but Hugh was the one who saved him from going crazy with grief. No. He would never deny Hugh’s request.

“You will have to take care of Merlin. He tends to be bad-tempered at times,” Graham said. “Have you seen him exercising in the enclosed field by the stable?”

“Shamelessly parading in front of the mare is more like it,” Hugh said. “He keeps trying to make Fleur run with him, but she stands her ground.”

“True, however, when he runs too far afield, she looks for him and prances enough to demand his attention,” Graham said.

“You don’t need to worry about him while you’re gone. Why don’t you leave Merlin here? I’ll personally take care of him. A week or so at the chateau and travel time, you’ll be back to your stables in three to four weeks,” Hugh said. “Find out what’s happening with the winery and the chateau. I’ll give you authority to put everything right.”

Three weeks wasn’t that long.

“Merlin could use a companion. He’s very picky at the stable. Make sure you let him run full out. He enjoys a good race.”

Hugh wrote several notes, got up, and pounded his brother’s back. “You have my thanks. Take these. They are letters of introduction for the guild master, Monsieur Olivier, and Monsieur Gershon, who handles all our finances. To avoid any confusion, this last one is a personal note for Jeanne Marie, Isabella, and Nolan naming you as our representative with full authority to act on our behalf.”

Graham stared at the notes then Hugh. “This is a heavy responsibility.”

“One that you are up to. Charlotte and I left the chateau three years ago. Only Jean Marie and Isabella remain. You go to the winery at a good time, the middle of the grape harvest. You’ll be able to see what’s happening.” Hugh handed him a scroll. “Every year, Olivier sends an accounting to substantiate his review of the winery. Here is his report from last year.”

“I’ll write to Jean Marie and Isabella now. I’ll send more funds and let them know to expect Graham,” Charlotte said.

Graham turned to his younger brother. “Come, Donald. The faster we return to Glen Kirk and prepare, the faster we can give Hugh his information.”

He and Donald said their farewells and headed toward the barn with Hugh. While Donald got the horses, Graham stood with Hugh by the enclosed field and watched Merlin and Fleur standing side-by-side, munching grass.

“They are well suited,” Hugh said.

He glanced at his brother. “Why do I think you had this planned all along? Sending me to France and conveniently leaving Merlin with you to be tempted by this beautiful piece of horseflesh.”

“It wasn’t my intent,” Hugh laughed. “But Merlin does appear to be content, not his usual skittish self.”

“Fleur has a calming effect on him.”

“It’s a woman’s trait,” Hugh said.

You’re more settled, at peace. You would usually be the first on a ship to France.”

“See how she shakes her head, her silky mane shimmering? All to entice him.” Hugh nodded toward the horses then faced him. “There is a lot to be said for contentment.”

Graham let out a sigh. Like Hugh, Merlin was doomed. He was wondering if he’d ever get Merlin, or Hugh for that matter, to leave Sagamore.

Donald walked over to them, leading two horses.

“You have my thanks for your hospitality, even if I am now paying for it dearly.” Graham shook his head as they walked the horses to the front of the house.

Charlotte came down the front steps.

“I hoped you hadn’t left yet. Safe travels. Please tell Isabella and Jeanne Marie that I miss them. And,” she hesitated.

“Did you want to tell me something?” Graham asked.

Charlotte gazed at him. “Isabella is wonderful. We grew up together, but she can be a bit difficult to win over.”

She kissed each brother-in-law on the cheek, then stood close to Hugh.

He had no need to win over the woman, just straighten things out.

Mounted and ready to go, Graham said to Hugh, “I will return in three weeks, four at the most with your answers.”

He and Donald started down the drive. Before they went through the gate, they glanced over their shoulders and waved to Hugh and Charlotte.

“He beguiled us to do his bidding,” Donald said, as he turned and looked ahead.

“We can spare three or four weeks, or are you afraid the king will forget you? Give your dukedom to someone else?” Graham teased.

Donald turned to his brother. “Never. I’ll race you to the meadow. Without you riding Merlin, at least I have a chance to win.”

He raced off.

Graham held his mount back, but she was eager to catch her stall mate.

“Easy girl.” The horse pranced, unable to stay still.

“Just a little more. That’s it. Get ready.” He patted her neck. He was as eager as the horse to race.

“Now, girl. Fly.” He gave the horse the bit and they flew after Donald, passing him, leaving him in the dust.

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