Grayson's Vow

Page 14


I took a quick shower, changed into clean clothes, and then went downstairs to let Charlotte know there'd be a guest for dinner. When I walked into the kitchen¸ it was fragrant with the smell of her beef stroganoff. Maybe I'd eat in after all.
"Beautiful evening, isn't it?" Charlotte asked, smiling brightly at me.
I grabbed a beer from the refrigerator, opened it, and downed half the bottle before grunting an affirmative response. "I have something to talk to you about."
She stopped stirring and eyed me. "That sounds ominous."
I shook my head, taking another swig of the cold beer. "For me, yes, but not for you."
"You know anything that affects you negatively affects me, too, Gray," she said softly. A small corner of my heart, the part that still lived, throbbed with regret.
"I know, Charlotte."
"So what is it? Just get it out there."
"I'm getting married. Probably."
The spoon clattered to the stovetop, and Charlotte brought her hands to her mouth. "You knocked someone up. Oh, Gray!"
I choked on the sip of beer I'd just taken. "No, God no."
"What then? Why? Who?" Charlotte sputtered.
I gave Charlotte the bare facts of what Kira had presented to me in my office that morning. Even after having a whole day to think on the topic, it still sounded crazy. Insane. "The facts haven't been confirmed, yet. But she'll be here for dinner, so I wanted to let you know. Actually, she's staying here for the time being."
Charlotte's face was a study in disapproval. She clearly hated this idea. "Marrying for money, Gray? No, I don't want this for you. And does this girl have no ethics? You deserve more. You deserve—"
"It's temporary, okay? If it turns out to be as Kira said, it will be a good thing for this vineyard. And frankly, it's my last hope." I set my jaw, unwilling to argue about this with Charlotte. "You know my situation."
"Yes, but . . . temporary? Marriage isn't temporary. Marriage isn't a business deal—a matter of contracts and negotiations. Marriage is sacred, a sacred vow to love forever."
I snorted. Charlotte knew I had little to no respect for the sanctity of marriage after witnessing the frigid nature of my own father and stepmother's "wedded bliss." "Most people aren't like you and Walter, Charlotte. Just look at Jessica and Ford Hawthorn."
Tenderness filled Charlotte's expression as she stepped closer to me. She took a moment, seeming to collect her words. "Gray, I know since you've come home, things have changed so much and everything has been so hard for you. I know you blame yourself . . . for all of it. And you've changed, Gray. You don't smile—you just work. You've shut down. But this is not the answer to your problems. It can't be. I can't let you do this—"
I set the empty beer bottle down, the glass clanking loudly on the marble countertop, anger and helplessness filling my chest. I hardly needed Charlotte's summation of who I'd become. Who I'd been forced to become. I lived with myself every second of every day. "You're my housekeeper, Charlotte, not my mother. I won't discuss this further. Set another plate."
Hurt flashed in Charlotte's eyes, but she pressed her lips together, turning back to the stove, muttering something I couldn't hear and didn't care to. Charlotte was as soft as her husband was rigid. "You'll be staying for dinner, of course," Charlotte said without turning, as I started to leave the kitchen, "to introduce us to your future wife."
I halted, the word "wife" making me jolt slightly. I much preferred "business partner" when it came to Kira. Of course, Charlotte was purposely trying to rattle me, trying to make clear what I was considering. I hadn't planned on eating dinner at home, but I said, "Of course." I'd give Charlotte that much at least.
I closed myself in my office and opened up the website for the Napa Valley Clerk's Office. There was no waiting period for getting married. We'd simply need to make an appointment and show up with a witness, or use one provided by them. Hopefully Kira wouldn't have a problem quickly making an appointment with the executor of her trust. The sooner we got this fake marriage started, the sooner we could get this fake marriage ended, and could both get on with our lives.
I rifled through my mail, putting the bills aside. For the first time in months I didn't cringe at the very large pile. If this worked . . . If this worked, I could pay them all. I wouldn’t let myself think about specifics, though, until everything had been confirmed. I halted when I saw a personal letter addressed to me in the feminine handwriting I recognized immediately. My chest squeezed momentarily before I had a chance to steel myself. Curiosity pricked at my mind, but I tossed the letter aside. There was nothing she could say that would ever change anything. I didn't need to hear her pitiful words of explanation or apology.
"God damn you, Vanessa," I whispered, leaning my elbows on my desk and taking my head in my hands for a few moments.
Now I really wanted to get out of here and blow off some steam. Instead, I had to dine with a stranger who might very well be my wife in a short time. Charlotte was right. This was a terrible idea. Ridiculous. No matter in what capacity I let them in, somehow women always had a way of ruining my life. And the truth of the matter was, Kira Dallaire would end up being the worst of all. She would be a constant, shameful reminder of just how far I'd fallen. A constant reminder of what I'd been reduced to: marrying a stranger for money. If I could find any humor in it at all, I'd laugh at my own pitiful predicament. I'd laugh at the fact that I was even considering this insanity.