Grayson's Vow

Page 27


"Stop where you are," I commanded. He did. I raised my chin. "Apologize to me for your extreme rudeness and . . ." I waved the bottle of wine around, trying to come up with the words for what he'd done to me and my pride. That same choked sound came out of Grayson's throat, his eyes tracking the bottle.
"Yes, yes, I apologize. I was just having some fun with you. I didn't mean any harm. I swear it. Come here and give me the bottle of wine, Kira."
I narrowed my eyes at him. "No."
He blinked. "No?"
"I won't come to you. You come to me."
Something flashed in his eyes, but he carefully checked his expression as his eyes landed on the bottle in my hands again. "Meet me in the middle."
I thought about challenging that. After all, I was the one clearly in control now, but I decided the middle was adequate. "Okay. Quick swap."
He nodded once and I went to move toward him. Hmm. I'd enjoy seeing that look of helpless panic in his eyes and hearing that odd choking sound come from his throat one last time. Intending on passing the bottle from my left hand to my right, I swung my left arm out in a wide arc and reached forward with my right to grab it, keeping eye contact with The Dragon, a small smirk on my lips. The sound of shattering glass rang out loudly in the silent room and I froze, sucking in a breath, time seeming to slow as I looked to my left where I had forgotten stood a large stone pillar. I'd raised my arm and smashed it right into the unforgiving rock. I swallowed thickly, watching what looked like blood drip down the stone into a growing puddle on the floor. A gasping sound came from the doorway and I whipped my head in the direction of the small noise. Walter stood there, his mouth hung open, his complexion a ghastly white.
"I had just gone to get the key to the wine cellar," he said, his voice a choked whisper. "I'm sorry, sir." Oh, God.
I looked down to the broken neck of the bottle in my hand and then slowly, very slowly up at Grayson. He was seething with what looked to be barely controlled fury. "It wasn't your fault, Walter. You may go," he said, his voice full of deadly calm.
There was a pause. "Yes, sir," I heard Walter say, then he quickly walked away.
I blinked, my hand letting go of the broken bottleneck as it, too, shattered on the floor. I stood glued to the spot as Grayson slowly made his way to me. I could practically feel the fiery rage emanating from him. When he got to me, he moved in close, taking his fingers and tilting my chin up to him. A muscle twitched in his jaw—a small warning. I stood straighter, meeting his eyes. "That bottle of wine," Grayson gritted out, "was my father's pride and joy. He spent years trying to obtain it. When he finally did, he wept. He wept, Kira. Tears of joy over that bottle you just smashed out of spite."
I shook my head, trying desperately not to flinch. "It was an accident. It was just . . . sitting there . . ." I hated the catch in my voice as my words faded away.
He let go of my chin, his midnight eyes still staring down at me intently. "Two o'clock," he said, finally. "Meet me here tomorrow at two o'clock."
Two o'clock? What was two o'clock? I couldn't remember. Oh, God, we were getting married. I almost told him it was off. I opened my mouth to say the words, but they didn't come out. Clearly he was going through with it now to punish me—or at the very least to recoup the cost of that "irreplaceable" bottle of wine.
With those words, Grayson went striding out of the living room. I stood there for a few minutes, finally walking on wobbly legs over to where he'd dropped my childish list. I picked it up and walked to the kitchen where Charlotte was wiping down the counter, the sweet smell of cinnamon and apples wafting in the air. She glanced at me with a clearly nervous look and then glanced away. "He's not a bad man, Kira."
I swallowed. "I . . ." I shook my head, beginning again. "I'm sure he's not always, but I have a way of . . . bringing out the very worst in men."
"I'm sure that's not true."
I shrugged. It really was. It really, really was. Bile rose in my throat. I thought I might be sick, but I managed to swallow it down.
"And perhaps it's more them than you, my dear. Perhaps it will take a very special man to um . . ."
"Handle me?" I laughed, a small sound that held little amusement.
"Love you," she corrected. I wasn’t sure I should take that as a compliment, except for the fact that Charlotte was smiling warmly at me.
Love. Fierce longing rose in my chest. For just once to be cherished. I sighed. "In any case, my arrangement with Grayson has nothing to do with love. And it doesn't matter anyway. I won't follow through. It was a terrible idea from the very beginning." I turned to Charlotte who was watching her hand move the sponge over the counters, a thoughtful look on her face. "That wine, Charlotte, was it really irreplaceable? Did his father really search for it for years . . ." I fought the urge to cry.
Charlotte was quiet for a moment, seeming to make a decision. She put the sponge on the sink and came around the counter to sit next to me on a bar stool. She took my hands in hers, a look of sympathy in her eyes. "He'll likely never tell you himself and so I'm going to let you in on something about Grayson and his father, Kira. I don't like to gossip, but maybe knowing some of Grayson's background will help you understand why he's so hell-bent on bringing this damn winery back." She pursed her lips for a second, but then her expression cleared. Damn winery? This was her home, too. Didn't she love it here? "Grayson and his father, Ford Hawthorn, did not have a good relationship." She shook her head sadly. "The reasons were many and perhaps Grayson will share those with you someday, but suffice it to say he was never made to feel like he belonged in this home—either by his father or his stepmother. They . . . misguidedly blamed him for things a child should never be blamed for. They treated him wretchedly—excluded him, each trying to convince the other they hated him more." A look of raw sadness filled her expression. "Grayson tried so hard, all his life, he . . . well, it didn't matter. Nothing he did was deemed good enough." She shook her head. "Later, after he got arrested . . ." She grabbed a tissue off the counter and dabbed at her nose. "His father never visited him, not even once. Ford found out he had cancer while Grayson was away, and he perished quickly. Or at least it seemed that way. When Grayson returned home, he found out his father had left this vineyard to him, a business that had begun failing as soon as Ford found out he was ill. He left the money to his wife and Grayson's brother, Shane, but he left the vineyard to Grayson." Something went skittering across her features, but it was gone before I could try to read it. "Grayson vowed that day he would bring the vineyard back, not for himself, but for the father who had shunned him his whole life and, in the end, left him this place as a final peace offering. Grayson felt Ford had entrusted him with his most beloved possession because he’d finally believed him worthy. Worthy of reviving it, worthy of running it. And Grayson will do practically anything to prove his father wasn't mistaken in that belief."