The Perfect Retreat


To Clementina Ferrand, Comtesse de Clermont


January 1850

Dearest Clementina,

This small weight of paper does not do justice to the enormity of my task. It is done. I have fulfilled my promise, and now I hope with all my heart that you will keep yours to me. When I lingered at your side in Paris, unwilling to leave you, you asked me to build you a home.

It is done.

My beautiful Clementina, I have included a drawing of our home – if you will let it be such – and I hope it meets with your approval. It is a home for us, and if God is kind, our children.

I cannot imagine life without you here. Every room calls your name and every tree I have planted asks for you to come and witness its transformation over the seasons.

The house is named Middlemist, after me. It is a pretty home, resting on a hill, built in a modern style. I have built a ballroom at its heart. I have taken the liberty of including something I have dreamed of: an orangery, filled entirely with clementines. Should you wish to come and be my wife, you will have all the sweet fruit you desire and I shall have you, the sweetest Clementine in the world.

It may be my misfortune that you have been taken away by another suitor by the time this letter comes to you; and if that is so then I will retire gracefully. I will live with the pain in my heart for evermore.

Although water divides us and some say that time should have lessened our love, you have my heart forever, my darling Clementina. Middlemist is yours and waiting, as am I.

Yours now, for I am no longer my own,




Willow Carruthers sat in the deep leather chair in her lawyer’s office and wrung her thin hands together, oblivious to the scraping sound her rings made.

‘No money?’ she asked again.

Her lawyer shook her head, the noise of Willow’s rings annoying her. ‘None, I’m afraid.’

Willow felt the pit of her stomach sink away and she rubbed her eyes, hoping the black spots before them would disappear, smearing her perfectly applied eye makeup.

‘How can it be?’ she asked. ‘I had my own money when Kerr and I married.’

‘I know, but you and Kerr never signed a prenuptial agreement. All your money has gone on …’ the polished woman looked down at the list in front of her, ‘… lifestyle. And some poor investments.’

Willow had the strong feeling she was being judged. Her feeling was confirmed when the lawyer started to speak again.

‘Three Aston Martins, two Porches, a house in Vail, a house in London, two castles in Europe, a vineyard in France and an olive grove in Italy, and a luxury yacht which Kerr put the down payment on eighteen months ago. Works of art by Lucian Freud, Damien Hirst, and Tracey Emin. Jewellery …’

‘I know, I know,’ Willow interrupted her.

She knew the castles were too much. She had tried to convince Kerr they didn’t need a house in Vail – she hated skiing – but he insisted. He was a rock star cliché and now she had to pay for it. Although she hadn’t been too stingy with the credit card either. Harvey Nichols practically closed when she was inside; she often had three people serving her at once. And she had recently spent an enormous amount of money on making the house environmentally friendly.

‘Kerr’s lawyer has recommended you both sell everything. That will give you the funds you need to pay the taxes. And naturally Kerr will have to lose the deposit on the yacht.’

Willow nodded. The yacht was news to her; she didn’t even know Kerr had bought it.

‘I … I just want to know how this happened,’ she asked. Her head was pounding and her mouth felt dry.

The woman looked Willow over, taking in her client’s Michael Kors suede skintight trousers and spotless Chloé silk shirt. ‘You haven’t made a film in six years. Kerr’s last album didn’t sell as well as he thought, and he took a loss on it. Your lifestyle simply cost more than you were both bringing in. You had no decent money management advice, and the losses your investments made in the US, to put it bluntly, screwed you.’

Willow looked up at her lawyer. ‘What am I going to do?’

The lawyer started to shuffle the papers on her desk, and putting them back into a folder, signalling that the meeting was coming to