Excerpt: Cathie Dunn, The Shadows of Versailles

The Shadows of Versailles

(An Affair of the Poisons Book One)

By Cathie Dunn

Dazzled by Versailles. Broken by tragedy. Consumed by revenge.

When Fleur de La Fontaine attends the court of King Louis XIV for the first time, she is soon besotted with handsome courtier, Philippe de Mortain. She dreams of married life away from her uncaring mother, but Philippe keeps a secret from her.

Nine months later, after the boy she has given birth to in a convent is whisked away, she flees to Paris where she mends gowns in the brothel of Madame Claudette, a woman who helps ‘fallen’ girls back on their feet.

Jacques de Montagnac investigates a spate of abducted children when his path crosses Fleur’s. He searches for her son, but the trail leads to a dead end – and a dreadful realisation.

Her boy’s suspected fate too much to bear, Fleur decides to avenge him. She visits the famous midwife, La Voisin, but it’s not the woman’s skills in childbirth that Fleur seeks.

La Voisin dabbles in poisons.

Will Fleur see her plan through? Or can she save herself from a tragic fate?

Delve into The Shadows of Versailles and enter the sinister world of potions, poisoners and black masses during the Affairs of the Poisons, a real event that stunned the court of the Sun King!

Buy Links

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08LHC27F7/

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08LHC27F7/

Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B08LHC27F7/

Amazon AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/gp/product/B08LHC27F7/

Excerpt

From Chapter Eighteen:

Fleur sat in the darkened room and studied the interior from beneath lowered lids.

It had taken Marianne several months for this first step. During that time, they had watched Philippe’s habits at court, his time of arrival, who he conversed or danced with – usually an array of young, unwed girls – and what he drank. Fleur had frequently seen him disappear from the terrace in the direction of the small copse where he’d seduced her. At once, she knew what he was doing. Marriage had not changed him. What a cur!

Philippe was also rather partial to wine. Under Marianne’s instructions, Fleur had charmed a handsome footman who would provide Marianne and her first with the coolest refreshments, before attending to other courtiers. The young man had become besotted with Fleur, but she kept him at a distance. Never again would she allow anyone to compromise her.

Marianne had explained the importance of using the help of the staff. If one were to pour a little something into Philippe’s wine, one had to ensure he took the correct glass from the tray offered.

Fleur had learned fast that wishing to foist your revenge on someone required a significant amount of finesse, planning – and time.

So they sat and watched. Not once had he looked her way, and she always ensured her fan was in place so he would not recognise her. But she was now moving in circles way above his station, whilst he maintained his place in the lower ranks of nobility.

Not that she recognised herself these days – her face painted, eyebrows lined with kohl, a powdered wig in a simple yet effective style that did not cause too much attention. Her gowns were of excellent quality, outshining those of Philippe’s wife, Hapless Henrietta, as Fleur now called her. The woman had not attended court in recent weeks, and rumour had it that she’d given birth to a girl, and, in his disappointment, Philippe had banished her to their country estate. Well, it was hers, really, but now his, of course. Poor Hapless Henrietta!

But the time had finally come when Fleur would put the next step in motion. For that reason, Marianne had taken her to rue Beauregard, to the salon of Catherine Monvoisin, known in certain circles as La Voisin. A woman well-known to many courtiers, Fleur had heard, a fortune-teller and provider of potions. And poisons.

Now, as she sat in the salon, its walls covered in expensive black drapes, the furniture opulent, but all a little on the dark side, she wondered for a moment if she was doing the right thing. This was what she wanted, was it not?

“Madame la duchesse,” a woman’s voice reached her, and Fleur stared at the figure that emerged from an adjacent room. Whatever she had expected, this was not it. La Voisin was an imposing, curvaceous female dressed in a figure-hugging crimson velvet gown that stood out in stark contrast to the decoration of the salon.

“Madame Monvoisin,” Marianne rose, as did Fleur, and the woman inclined her head briefly.

“Please take a seat again.” La Voisin gestured at the settee.

Fleur lowered herself again into the thickly cushioned comfort. A soothing environment, were it not for the lack of any personal items. No books or figurines, no sign of the woman’s daily life. In fact, the black drapes made it resemble an unlit cave.

La Voisin sat on a single armchair next to their settee and folded her hands in her lap. In her forties, she gave the impression of a woman of business. But despite the smile, Fleur noticed cold, dark-brown eyes apprising her.

“What can I do for you, madame?”

Marianne cleared her throat. “We have a rather…delicate matter to attend to, madame. My friend here, whose name I’d rather not share, is looking for something to, umm, rid herself of someone.”

“A rival?” La Voisin’s eyes never left Fleur’s face.

“No, nothing like that. A man,” Marianne clarified.

“A former lover?”

Fleur took a sharp breath, and La Voisin laughed out loud. Goosebumps rose on her skin. This woman was as cold as the slate on a grave.

“I see.”

“I believe you can assist us.” Marianne’s voice sounded confident. How often had she sought the woman’s help?

Best not to dwell on that now.

La Voisin smiled thinly. “I can. But first, I will need to see the girl’s hands.”

“Why?” Fleur folded her hands in her lap. What did this mean?

“To find out the best way to achieve that what you wish for, my dear. Please join me over there.” She walked to a small round table covered with a black silk cloth.

Fleur exchanged a glance with Marianne, who nodded. “It’s fine. Nothing will befall you.”

La Voisin’s mouth twitched as Fleur followed her and sat in a chair opposite. Up close, the chill in her eyes became more obvious.

As if she were dead inside.

La Voisin reached forward and took her wrists, then she studied her hands, first on the back, tracing each finger. Then she turned Fleur’s hands over, her thumb following the lines in Fleur’s palm.

“Interesting,” she whispered. “Very interesting.”

Fleur stared at her. “Really? What is?” She looked at her palm, but it looked normal to her.

La Voisin regarded her with half-closed lids. “You’ve been through much.”

If you only knew…

“Like many people in Paris,” Fleur said.

A spark of admiration appeared in the woman’s eyes, and she straightened. “Absolutely. You are not the first, nor shall you be the last. Hmm.” Her index finger traced a broken line. “A man – young, virile – promised marriage.”

Fleur held her breath. This could also be true for half of Paris.

“But there’s more.” La Voisin looked Fleur up and down, her gaze coming to rest on Fleur’s stomach.

Fleur blinked.

“He left you with child.”

“How do you—?” Fleur wanted to pull her hands away, but intrigued, she kept them in La Voisin’s firm grip.

“That’s why people come to me. I know everything!” A challenging glance met hers, and Fleur averted her eyes. The confidence the woman exuded was far above her station.

Just how did she know what happened?

“Now you’re seeking revenge for your loss of innocence. Men of good standing would no longer wish to wed you.”

“I don’t want to marry,” Fleur said.

“That’s fair. Look after yourself.” La Voisin brought Fleur’s left hand closer to her face, staring at something. Her finger followed a line that reached towards Fleur’s wrist. “See this?”

Fleur nodded.

“This brings you power. Much power.” Cold eyes appraised her again, and Fleur felt like a piece of meat on a butcher’s table. “Someone of high importance protects you.” La Voisin glanced at Marianne, who’d remained on the settee. “Someone even higher than you, Your Grace.”

“Who do you mean?”

“Ah, it’s not that detailed, but let me tell you – this person has much influence. My guess would be someone close to the king.”

Fleur gasped, and repeated, “Close to the king…?”

A sly smile appeared on La Voisin’s lips, then she whispered, “Perhaps even the king himself.”

“He has spoken to her, several times, in recent months,” Marianne said.

“Good. That means that whatever happens, whatever you do, you shall be safe. This line here implies a long life.”

“Wait! Safe from what?” Fleur was looking from one woman to the other.

“Persecution!” La Voisin smiled. She folded up Fleur’s palm and placed her hand on the table. Then she leaned back.

Fleur’s mind was in turmoil. “Why would I be—?” Then it dawned on her.

Review

Have you ever visited Versailles? I was lucky enough to do so, years ago, and the way I always describe it is to imagine all the gold and glitz you can, then multiply it around a hundred-fold. It’s spectacular, but with all that glam and shine, there has to be a dark side somewhere, doesn’t there? The Affair of the Poisons is about as dark as it comes, and I was so excited to read this, the first in the new series from Cathie, exploring those events. I warmed immediately to Jacques, the investigator tasked with the hideous role of trying to find out what has been happening to abducted babies, and really enjoyed the juxtaposition of the two worlds – the glory of Versailles and high society, and the back-streets of Paris, with brothels and criminals at every turn.

I can highly recommend this to anyone who has been intrigued by Versailles, whether the glamour of the TV series, or the horror of the poisons. Can’t wait for the next in the series!

About Cathie

Cathie Dunn writes historical fiction, mystery, and romance.

Cathie has been writing for over twenty years. She studied Creative Writing, with a focus on novel writing, which she now teaches in the south of France. She loves researching for her novels, delving into history books, and visiting castles and historic sites.

Her stories have garnered awards and praise from reviewers and readers for their authentic description of the past.

Cathie is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Alliance of Independent Authors.

After nearly two decades in Scotland, she now lives in the historic city of Carcassonne in the south of France with her husband, two cats and a rescue dog.

Social Media Links:

Website: http://www.cathiedunn.com

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Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CathieDunnAuthor

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Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.fr/cathiedunnwrites/

BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/cathie-dunn

Amazon Author Page: https://author.to/CathieDunn 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5066224.Cathie_Dunn


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