Grayson's Vow

Page 17


"Would you like to see the rest of the house?" I asked, trying to make a small peace offering.
Kira looked surprised, but nodded yes. We got up from the table, and Kira thanked Charlotte for dinner. Charlotte smiled a smile that seemed genuine but didn't offer me one.
I brought Kira back to the main foyer and we started from there. "My father had this place designed to mimic a French chateau."
Kira nodded as we entered the formal living room. "It really does. It reminds me of a smaller-scale fairy-tale castle. There's something . . . enchanting about it." She gasped when she spotted the large window overlooking the back of the house. The pool was directly below, down a set of steps, and off a natural stone patio. However, her head was lifted and I knew she was staring at the hedge maze just beyond that. She whirled toward me. "It's a maze!" she gasped. "And it's massive."
I clenched my jaw just as I did each time I looked at that hateful thing. "It's completely overgrown. If I had the extra money, I'd have had it mown down when I moved back."
"Oh why?" she gasped. "It's incredible! Can I go inside sometime—?"
"No. Absolutely not." I gentled my tone, though when I said, "It isn't safe." She didn't know why I hated it and she never would, but I had spoken the truth—it was too overgrown to be safe.
She was studying me with those bright, penetrating eyes. I could feel them boring into the side of my face. When I made eye contact, she raised one delicate brow. "The heart of your lair, I suppose?" She smiled prettily. "Where you were . . . hatched?" I narrowed my eyes, and tried to give her a scathing look, but I knew she was joking and I couldn't resist the smile that made its way to my lips. I chuckled softly.
"Perhaps." I raised my own brow. "But in all seriousness, just stay away from it."
After a short pause, Kira looked away and shrugged. "Well, okay, it's your house."
I took her through the rooms one by one and watched her reaction. This house had been a showpiece at one time, but signs of neglect were everywhere. Despite the now-sparse furnishings, Charlotte, being only one person, could hardly keep the whole thing spotless as it had once been. When I said as much, Kira looked at me and stated, "You grew up in a life of privilege." I knew what she wasn't saying: I had acted as if she was the only one who'd known luxury.
"Privilege isn't only defined by material wealth, Kira. I grew up in a fine home with lots of hired help, but I can assure you, I never lived a life of privilege. For all intents and purposes, I never had any parents at all."
She tilted her head, confusion filling her expression. "What does that mean, Grayson?"
I shook my head. "The specifics of my family dynamics don't matter. Suffice it to say, I'm used to hard work, and I won't let a dollar of the money you're so generously offering me go to waste. In fact, I'm considering the money you're giving me a loan. Once the vineyard is bringing in a profit, I'll pay you back."
She was quiet for a moment. Finally, she simply nodded. "We don't need to put that in the paperwork, but should you choose . . ." She waved her hand in the air as if I could do as I pleased on that front. Interesting. I wasn't sure what to think of her response.
When we walked through the upstairs corridor, Kira stopped at the picture of my father and stepmother. "They've both passed?" she asked softly, glancing back at me.
I shook my head. "Only my father. My stepmother lives in San Francisco."
She turned slowly toward me. "Does she have no interest in helping with the vineyard her husband loved? Or does she not have the financial means—?"
"She has plenty of money. My father left this vineyard to me. I won't ask my stepmother for a dime of the money my father left her. We have no relationship and we never have." I should have to tolerate you when your own mother couldn't even be bothered? she'd asked me when I was twelve. I could still hear the cold words echoing through my head. "I'd rather . . . well, I'd rather marry a stranger for money before going to her for a loan." I gave her a wry smile, but she didn't smile back. "Anyway, the vow I've made is to my father. It's for me to fulfill."
She looked at me, tilting her head. "I understand vows, Grayson. I've made them, too. I've vowed never again to depend upon my father." She turned back to the photo and looked at it for another long minute.
"You must favor your mother," she said, obviously noticing my father's very light coloring.
"Yes, to everyone's dismay," I said. She glanced at me, but didn't question that cryptic remark. I wasn't sure why I'd made it. I hardly wanted her questioning anything about my life.
She looked back to the wall of pictures, leaning closer to a photo. I studied her profile, the straight slope of her small nose, the gentle curve of her jaw, the feathery curl of her lashes, that long, silken hair falling around her face and down her back. "You have a brother," she said, looking at the picture of Shane and me.
"Does he live nearby?"
"No, he lives in San Diego."
"Are you close?"
"I haven't spoken to my brother in over five years."
She turned to me again. "Oh, I'm so sorry."
"Don't be," I said, my voice clipped as I led her away before she could ask any more intrusive questions. I was already feeling very uncomfortable with this tour. And I couldn't blame her—it had been my own idea.