Grayson's Vow

Page 4


"Okay. Talk to you then. And Kira, I'm so glad you're back. I've missed you so much."
"I've missed you, too. Bye, Kimberly."
I hung up and sat in my car a few minutes longer. Then I picked my phone back up to do a little Internet sleuthing and to find a hotel room I could afford.
"Pump can't be fixed, sir, gonna have to be replaced."
I swore under my breath and placed my wrench back in my toolbox, standing up straight. José was right. I used my arm to wipe the sweat on my forehead and nodded, leaning against the useless piece of equipment, just another thing that needed to be fixed or replaced.
José gave me a sympathetic look. "I got the destemmer working, though. Good as new, I think."
"Well, that's some good news," I answered, picking up the toolbox I'd brought with me. One piece of good news to add to the long list of bad. Still, I'd take what I could get right now. "Thanks, José. I'm gonna go clean up."
José nodded. "Any news from the bank, sir?" I stopped, but didn't turn around.
"They said no to a loan." When José didn't respond, I kept walking. I could practically feel his disappointed gaze burning into my back. I had vowed to keep my family winery running, and nothing on earth was more important to me, but José had a family to feed, the newest member only weeks old. If I failed, I wouldn't be the only one out of a job.
If you were worth more . . .
I clenched my jaw against the way those words had stabbed, implying more to me than just my financial value. Reminding me I'd never been worth much.
If you were worth more . . .
If indeed.
With that mighty IF and four quarters, I could buy myself something off the dollar menu at McDonald's.
I'd gone over the "what ifs" of my life more times than I could count. It was a painful, useless waste of time.
And I hardly needed another reason to despise myself.
I shut those thoughts down, though. I was slipping dangerously close to self-pity, and I knew from personal experience that was a deep hole to climb out of once you'd let yourself descend. Instead, I made a concerted effort to wrap myself in the coldness that kept the desperation at bay. And allowed me to continue to do the work that needed to get done.
In the end, I reminded myself, my father had found me worthy. And I'd made a vow not to let him down—not this time.
The late afternoon sun was high in the sky when I stepped outside, the smell of the roses my stepmother had planted so long ago filling the air, the lazy drone of a buzzing bee somewhere nearby. I stopped to survey the rows and rows of grapes ripening on their vines, pride swelling in my chest. It was going to be a good harvest. I felt it in my bones. It had to be a good harvest. And that was going to keep me going today, despite the fact that I'd have no way to use the fruit if my equipment wasn't ready by fall. I'd sold almost everything of any value in my family home to raise the money to plant those grapes . . .
A few minutes later I was stepping inside the house, a grand stone estate built by my father, designed with plenty of vintage, old-world character. It had been a showplace in its day, but it needed as many fixes as the winemaking equipment. Fixes I had no way to finance.
"The pump's unfixable."
I gritted my teeth as Walter, the family butler, turned jack-of-all-trades around the place, greeted me. "So it seems."
"I've made a spreadsheet of all the equipment needing to be fixed, what requires replacement, and color-coded it according to priority." Great. Just what I needed—a visual aid of the hopelessness of my situation.
I paused in my rifling through the mail on the foyer console. "You're my secretary now, too, Walter?"
"Someone needs to be. Running this place is too big a job for one person, sir."
"Let me ask you this, Walter."
"Yes, sir."
"Did you come up with a list of ways I might pay for those color-coded items that need to be fixed or replaced?"
Walter shook his head. "No, sir, I don't have any ideas that you haven't already thought of. But I hope the list in and of itself is helpful."
"Not in the least, Walter," I said as I headed for the main staircase. "And I've told you a million times to dispense with 'sir.' You've known me since I was a baby." Not to mention that I hardly deserved the respectful title. Walter was worth three of me, and he surely knew it. Nevertheless, I also knew he would never let go of the professionalism. Walter Popplewell was from England and had been with our family for more than thirty years.
Walter cleared his throat. "And there's someone waiting to see you, sir."
I turned. "Who is it?"
"Someone," Walter cleared his throat again, "looking for a job, sir."
I rolled my eyes to the ceiling. Jesus. "Fine, let me get rid of him. What kind of idiot is trying to get a job here anyway?"
Walter swept his hand toward the kitchen where I heard his wife, my housekeeper, Charlotte, laughing with someone. 
When I entered the kitchen, I saw a man sitting at the large, wooden table, a plate of cookies in front of him. When he saw me, he stood quickly, knocking the plate to the floor where it crashed onto the tile and splintered into a million pieces.
"Oh dear!" Charlotte exclaimed and rushed from where she was pouring a glass of milk at the counter. "Don't worry about that, Virgil. You just talk to Mr. Hawthorn and I'll clean that up. Not to worry a bit."