Grayson's Vow

Page 23


I dropped Kira off at her cottage and told her I'd see her on Monday. She didn't look back as she walked away. As quiet as she'd been after our appointment, I half wondered whether she'd return at all. Maybe it'd be best if she didn't. But I didn't believe that. For the first time in a year, I felt an eager anticipation for the future. That morning I'd opened the list Walter had made of equipment needing repair or replacement and felt a flutter in my gut. Soon, I would be able to go down it and check the items off one by one. Tension had released in my shoulders and I'd finally allowed full-blown hope to surge through my system. The power of it had left my heart beating wildly. When was the last time I'd felt that sensation? I couldn't remember. "I won't let you down," I vowed for the hundredth time, addressing my father. "I'll make you proud of me, I swear it." I had to believe that somehow, he'd know. It was what kept me going.
I spent the weekend working with renewed vigor. There was going to be a lot of work to get done, despite the incoming funds. And I still had a meager staff. I'd have to hire a couple more people once I had the actual check in my hands, or at least knew it was coming very shortly.
When I arrived back at the house Sunday night, I remembered the bottle of Vosne-Romanée I'd asked Walter to bring up to the main wine cellar. Pangs of guilt and despair had crippled me when I'd considered selling my father's pride and joy—his rare wine collection—to bring some much-needed income into the vineyard. The thought alone had felt like a betrayal. I'm trying. I'm trying so hard to salvage all that was precious to you. Relief at not having to go through with selling it was overwhelming. Success—another thing I hadn't felt in years settled in my heart.
When I saw Walter, I instructed him to put the bottle back in the lower wine cellar where it'd originally been kept.
"Yes, sir. I'll do it this week."
"Thank you."
"And may I offer my most heartfelt congratulations on your . . . marriage, sir?" The word "marriage" was offered with the coldest disdain I'd ever heard from Walter. And that was saying something.
"No, Walter, you may not."
Walter's lip quirked. "Very well, sir. I do wish you the best, however. My mother used to say that marriage is much like wine. They both mature slowly and grow deeper and more complex with time."
I turned to Walter. "Walter, I think you know as well as I do that my marriage will not be allowed to mature. It's temporary—for business purposes only."
"As you say, sir."
I halted, frowning at him.
"I do say."
"Very well, sir."
I scowled at him and started for the stairs before I got overly annoyed with the man. He had a way of making me feel like I was twelve again. And he had a way of making me question myself with his insolent, "Yes, sir, no sirs." I'd fire him one of these days. Without severance.
I ate dinner alone, wondering when Kira would return. I hadn't asked her anything about her trip. I didn't want to set a precedent that we would ask about each other's whereabouts or actions. I certainly didn't want her thinking she could do that with me, and I had no desire to do it with her. Still . . . if she'd changed her mind . . . I'd rather know now than have to wait for her to call me at some point this week after not showing up.
Reluctantly, I picked up my phone and used the cell number I'd only used the one time before when I'd visited her at her hotel room. I debated what to say in my text. I didn't want to leave her with the impression I was checking in with her.
Me: Should I have Charlotte keep a plate warmed for you?
A few minutes later, my phone beeped.
Kira: That's thoughtful, but no, thank you.
I scowled. Was she dense?
Me: I'll have Charlotte set a place at breakfast for you then.
Kira: No, that won't be necessary either. Thank you.
I growled at the phone, punching at the small letters on the keyboard.
Me: Goddamn it Kira, are you coming back or not?
Several minutes ticked by, a strange panic rising in my throat.
Kira: Yes, I'll be back tomorrow afternoon. Miss me?
I exhaled.
Me: No. Goodnight.
Little witch.
Hawthorn Vineyard was suffused with dappled, late afternoon sun when I drove through the gates a little after four o'clock. I'd spent the weekend with Kimberly, filling her in on everything that had taken place with Grayson Hawthorn since I'd last spoken to her. At first she refused to speak to me, and then she ranted and raved for fifteen minutes—breaking into frequent bouts of Spanish—while I sat before her on the couch with my arms crossed like a child being disciplined. She'd brought up at least twenty examples of Very Bad Ideas that had ended terribly. When she'd finally calmed down enough to discuss the matter with me, though, and when she realized I wasn't going to back down, she'd taken me in her arms and offered me her support. That was generally the way of things with Kimberly. I knew enough to wait her out. And she knew enough to know that once I'd committed to a Very Bad Idea, it was unlikely I'd change my mind. Still, I knew that ranting at me made her feel like she'd done her duty, so I took it in stride. At its core, it was filled with love. I had missed her so much while I was away. She had always been a balm to my soul, the one who kept me sane.
I'd also made a quick visit to the drop-in center where I'd spent so many hours. I assured them I had a large donation coming their way, one that would allow them to make it through the next six months until one of their larger grants kicked in.