12

Alight rain fell as Brenna walked through the north vineyard where the Cab grapes were grown. Mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, with a little Cab Franc for blending. Now, in early April, there were only small signs of life. She spotted a few tiny buds that would soon bring forth green leaves and heavy grapes.

She drew in a deep breath, inhaling the scent of damp earth. Come late summer the fragrance of the grapes would be nearly as intoxicating as the wine itself. Today there was only the gray of the sky and the brown of the earth, but in time the landscape would be an artist’s palette of colors. Blue and green and gold and purple. She closed her eyes, imagining what it would be, then opened them again. To her, even the barren plainness was beautiful.

For the first time in several weeks, she felt as if she could breathe. As if she, like the vines, was coming back to life.

Carefully, so as not to accidentally kick a plant, she bent down and examined the fastenings that held the vine in place. She touched the small tubing that provided life-giving water. Her fingers curled into her palms as she ached for all she’d missed these years. All she’d lost. All Jeff had taken away.

She knew that in time she would accept his leaving, her stupidity, and the other woman. But she would never, ever forgive him for wanting to lay claim to the land, the vines and the dream she’d given up for him. Rage didn’t describe what she felt, nor did fury. She didn’t just want Jeff to back off, she wanted him destroyed. Any thoughts she’d had about being reasonable had ended the second he’d threatened Marcelli Wines.

She straightened and raised her face to the rain. Cool drops trickled down her face like tears. Yet this moisture healed. It brought life-to the vines and to her.

She’d given herself heart, body, and soul to her husband and in the end he’d had no use for the gifts. Obviously her body was hers once again, and while she had no need for her heart-love was not going to be in her future, ever-she desperately had to find her soul if she was ever to reclaim the person she used to be.

“You’re a Marcelli to your bones. You always come back to the vines.”

She turned toward the familiar voice and saw Grandpa Lorenzo walking toward her. He wore a heavy jacket and a cap on his white hair. Sometime while she hadn’t been paying attention, he’d become an old man. Time had bent his back and gnarled his hands. Still, when he stood close to her, she felt safe, just as she had when she’d been a little girl.

“You’re right about the vines,” she said, staring out at them. “I can’t escape them.”

“Not even when you try. I heard about your husband. That he tried to claim some of this for himself. That will never happen. This is only for family.”

“I know, Grandpa.” His words made her feel guilty, as if Jeff’s greedy grasping were her fault. “I should never have married him.”

“No. We all thought he was a different kind of man.”

Brenna wasn’t so sure anyone had thought anything except relief that she had married right on schedule. Even at eighteen she’d felt the pressure to marry young and produce a son. She thought of how the current circumstances would have affected a child.

“At least we were smart enough not to have babies,” she said. “Better that they not go through this. Plus Jeff would have been tied to the family forever.”

She expected a word of agreement, but instead Grandpa Lorenzo sighed heavily. “I would have forgiven many sins for a grandson.”

Anger flared inside of her. “You need to get over your gender bias, Grandpa. It’s the new millennium. Women are just as capable as men, and they’re finally getting a chance to prove it.”

The old man looked at her. “They may be capable, but are they as loyal? You left. You went away and the vines were forgotten.”

“That’s not fair,” she protested. “You wanted me to get married. All my life I’d been told my duty was to have a husband and a family. I did what I was supposed to do, and now you’re blaming me for leaving?”

He ignored the question. “What are you going to do now?” Grandpa Lorenzo asked.

“Get a job.” She turned to him. “I want to work here.”

He nodded. “I think there’s an opening in the gift shop.”

She stepped back as if he’d slapped her. Tears sprang to her eyes, but she blinked them away. He would be expecting weakness. She had to be strong to prove herself.

“Except for you, no one knows more about the vines than I do,” she said.

“You knew. Nine years ago. What do you remember?”

She thought about her years in an office job she hated, and how at night, when she wasn’t at her second job, she’d studied. She’d used money they’d needed for things like food to buy textbooks from the UC Davis Viticulture and Enology Department. She’d continued her education, even when Jeff had fumed at her, not understanding why it was so important to her.

“I remember everything,” she told him.

Her grandfather looked at her. “What’s to keep you from running off with the next man who asks?”

The unfairness of the question fueled her temper. He wanted it both ways-great-grandsons and a promise never to leave.

“Let’s just say I’ve learned my lesson,” she told him. “I’m not interested in being stupid a second time.”

He studied her, staring into her eyes for several seconds before turning away. “There might be something. Come into my office in the morning and we’ll talk.”

She nodded without speaking because her throat had tightened and she didn’t think she could form words. When he left, she stayed where she was, raising her face to the light rain, letting the cool drops wash away her tears.

Finally, when the cold seeped into her bones, she forced herself to head back to the house. As she turned in that direction, she caught sight of a distant hillside, also covered with dormant vines. But this land wasn’t part of the Marcelli legacy. Instead it belonged to Wild Sea Vineyards.

Marcelli wines had an excellent reputation for quality. They consistently received high scores and won medals. But Wild Sea Vineyards was an international success that dwarfed its neighbor. The two wineries had been founded together, by best friends as close as brothers. Until sixty years before, when there had been a falling out between the Marcelli and Giovanni family.

Wild Sea had grown big enough to dominate the valley. One by one small family wineries faded into bankruptcy or were swallowed up by larger labels-not just here, but in Napa and Sonoma. The days of the “gentleman vintner” were numbered.

Did her grandfather know? Had he recognized the changes coming?

She told herself that in time they would speak of it. Or she would talk, he would listen, then they would argue. It had always been that way with her grandfather.

Brenna walked toward the hacienda. She and her sisters had never paid attention to the feud, which, sixty years after it happened, still influenced Lorenzo Marcelli’s every action. They’d listened to the grown-ups talk and had rolled their eyes. But her grandparents had taken it seriously, as had her parents. So when she’d turned sixteen and had fallen in love with Nicholas Giovanni, she hadn’t told a soul.

A lifetime ago, she reminded herself. Back when she had been young and idealistic, and had thought that love would last forever.

Zach made notes on the file in front of him, but it was difficult to concentrate with the beat of loud music swirling around him. He glanced at the ceiling, toward David’s bedroom. His son was home for a few days, recovering from finals, and he’d invited a few friends over to help him celebrate temporary freedom. While Zach enjoyed having his son around, even for a short time, the teenagers and their loud music made him feel old.

He glanced at his watch, then at the phone. He hadn’t seen Katie or spoken with her since she’d disappeared from his bed three mornings before.

Sneaking out before dawn was usually his job, he thought ruefully. As a rule, he preferred to be the guest rather than host so he could end the date when he was ready. That hadn’t happened with Katie, and when he’d awakened to find her side of the bed cold and not a trace of her in the house, he’d had a moment of compassion for all the women he’d treated in the same way.

“Payback’s a bitch,” he murmured.

He knew she’d enjoyed their time in bed, as had he. He guessed the physical connection had left her as rattled as it had left him. So they both needed time to regroup. Not a problem. He could wait her out.

But the cool confidence of his thoughts didn’t keep him from glancing back at the phone and wondering why the hell she hadn’t called him.

He returned his attention to his notes. He was involved in a particularly tricky case between a software multimillionaire and his high-school sweetheart turned soon-to-be ex-wife. This time he represented the husband who had found out that the love of his life hadn’t just been screwing the pool boy. She’d also had a torrid affair with the maid and the maid’s husband.

“To each his own,” he muttered as he checked a few minor points of law.

Sometime later David turned off the music. Zach barely noticed. However, he did look up when he heard footsteps on the hardwood floor. The kids trooped toward the front door. A couple paused to yell out thanks for allowing them to visit.

“No problem,” Zach told them.

David came downstairs last, a pretty redhead walking with him. They were deep in conversation.

Zach made a few more notes in the margin. He and David were going to go grab an early dinner, then take in a movie. Mia had some plans with a club on campus, so he and David were just going to be a couple of wild guys on the town.

Real wild, Zach thought with a grin. Dinner and a movie, home before ten.

A soft giggle caught his attention. He glanced up and saw David still talking to the redhead. She leaned against the wall by the front door. One hand toyed with a long strand of hair, the other rested on his son’s chest. David stood pretty damned close and looked cozy enough to make Zach feel as if he were spying.

Zach swore. What the hell was his kid up to?

He slammed the law book shut and they both jumped. David glanced at him over his shoulder, then opened the front door. “I’m going to walk Julie to her car, Dad. Be right back.”

Zach watched him go. This wasn’t his business, he told himself. Except David was supposed to be engaged-something Zach was still trying to change-and if there was another young woman in the picture, then there were even more reasons the marriage shouldn’t take place.

Indecision held him in his seat for nearly fifteen seconds, then Zach rose and crossed to the front window. Julie had already climbed into her car. The door was open and David had crouched next to her.

They were talking, Zach could see that much, but he had no idea about what. Nor was he sure what happened when David leaned forward slightly. Shit. Had he kissed her? Was David cheating on Mia? Was his problem solved? Or was David going to take after his grandfather and be a cheating spouse? The possibility of the latter made Zach’s stomach clench.

Annoyed with both David for acting like an ass and himself for witnessing it, Zach returned to his seat. David strolled back into the house a minute or so later and slumped down on the sofa across from Zach’s seat.

“How’s work going?” his son asked, jerking his head at the pages on the table.

“Slow, but I’m getting there.”

“I don’t think I’d want to be a lawyer. Too much boring reading.”

“There’s a lot of that.” Zach couldn’t decide if he should say anything or not. If he pushed, David could dig in his heels. Maybe a more neutral topic would be safer.

“Have you given any thought to what you would like to do?”

David shrugged. He wore a UCLA sweatshirt and jeans. As usual, his hair was too long. At least the kid had never been into earrings or tattoos. He thought briefly of Francesca in her fake tattoos and shuddered. Going around dressed up like that was a strange occupation for a woman in her late twenties.

No. It was a strange occupation for anyone.

“What classes do you like?” Zach asked. “I was never interested in math, but your mother’s father was an engineer. You might have inherited some aptitude from him.”

“It’s okay.” He shifted in the sofa, stretching out. His head practically rested on the arm of the sofa. “Biology has been kinda interesting, but I hate the lab. I dunno.”

Zach picked up a pen and turned it over in his hands. “You still have a lot of time to decide.” He glanced back at David. “Is Mia pressuring you to pick something?”

“What?” David straightened. “No. Not really.”

“Okay. I just wondered. Katie said Mia has known what she wanted from school for years.”

“Mia’s like that.”

“What about Julie?”

David grinned. “She’s like me. She doesn’t have a clue.”

“She seems nice.”

David glanced out the window. “She is. We’re friends. We were just talking about some stuff.” He cleared his throat. “You know, I’ve been thinking.”

Zach wondered if he should pursue the “Julie” line of conversation, then decided to let it go rather than tip his hand. “About what?”

“About school and stuff. I’ve been thinking that I might want to transfer to a different school in a year or two.”

It took Zach a couple of seconds to realize what he’d heard. “You want to leave UCLA?”

Leave? But that was the only college David had ever wanted to attend. They’d been going to football games and basketball games together for years. Now David went with his friends more than his father, but he still went.

“I don’t understand,” Zach said. “Don’t you like your classes?”

“They’re okay.”

“I know you’ve made friends. What’s the problem?”

David looked as if he’d just tasted liver. “Why does there have to be a problem? I’m doing great. I really like UCLA. I don’t want to leave, I just-” He studied the floor. “Mia is going to be graduating next year, and she really has her heart set on going to Georgetown for her master’s.”

David wanted to change his life for one girl while possibly screwing another? Damn it all to hell.

Zach told himself that exploding at his son would only end the conversation and put them on opposite sides of the issue, but it was hard to keep from shouting in frustration.

Instead he forced himself to sound calm as he said, “Why doesn’t Mia get her master’s at UCLA? If it took her two years, you’d both finish at the same time.”

David looked uncomfortable. “We’ve, um, you know, talked about that. The thing is, she wants to go into the State Department and being in Washington will make that easier. She’ll meet people, get an internship, that sort of thing. We had dinner with some guy she met last summer. He works there now and he’s gonna help her.”

David shrugged again. His hair fell across his forehead, hiding his expression. “Mia really wants to do this.”

Zach drew in a deep breath. “Mia’s fortunate to have such a clear view of her future,” he said, trying for light, and not sure he was succeeding. “What do you want?”

David grinned. “It sort of seems like under the circumstances that not having a major is a good thing, huh?”

Zach mentally grabbed on to his self-control with both hands. “If you’re talking about transferring at the end of your sophomore year, you’ll have to declare a major to be accepted, won’t you?”

“I guess. I could just take poli sci, like Mia. It might be fun.”

“Fun? David, we’re talking about your future. What do you want to do with your life? While I’m not suggesting you pick a career that’s boring, I would think you’d want to put a little more thought into a major than the fact that it’s what your girlfriend is studying.”

David’s head snapped up. “You said it didn’t matter that I didn’t have a major.”

“It doesn’t. Not now. But it will matter soon. It will matter a lot if you switch schools. What if what you want to study isn’t available at Georgetown? I don’t object to you transferring, if it’s in your best interest. But simply to follow Mia?”

“We’re getting married. I can’t marry her and live on the other side of the country.”

Something snapped. Zach heard the audible sound as his frustration and concern exploded into temper.

“Dammit, David, this entire situation is crazy. You’re barely eighteen years old. You don’t have a clue as to what you want for your future, so why are you so fired up to get married? If you and Mia are so hot to be together, then move in with her. Sharing an apartment for a few months will take the bloom off the rose. You’ll both figure out that there’s more to love than sex.”

David flushed, but he didn’t look away. Instead he slid forward in his seat and jerked out his chin. “I thought you’d be proud of me wanting to marry her instead of just living together. Isn’t marriage the right thing to do?”

“Sure. If you’re ready. If you’re sure. You and Julie looked chummy. Want to tell me what’s going on there?”

“Nothing.” But David didn’t look at him as he spoke. “We’re just friends.”

“Is that why you kissed her?”

David glared at him. “You were spying on me.”

“I was concerned.” And apparently right.

His son stood. “This isn’t your business.”

“You made it my business when you said you wanted to get married. You’re so in love with Mia that you’re going to marry her and transfer across the country, yet four months before the wedding you’re kissing some other girl?”

“It’s not like that. I love Mia.”

“You don’t know what love is.” Zach stood to face his son. “Mia is your first girlfriend, David. You don’t have a job. Marriage requires commitment and responsibility. It requires fidelity. What do you know about working out problems, organizing a budget, paying bills, while working and going to school? You’re overwhelmed by your current schedule. What happens when it gets worse?”

“We’ll be fine. We’ll learn together.”

Zach played his trump card. “And if I refuse to pay for your college?”

David stiffened. “I didn’t think you’d do that, but I can’t stop you.” He glared at his father. “You don’t understand. You’ll never understand. I love her. You’ve never loved anyone in your whole life, so you can’t know what that feels like. You get involved for a few weeks, then you walk away. To you marriage is just something that ends in divorce, but it doesn’t have to be like that. I know you think Mia and I are going to fail, but you’re wrong.”

His voice rose until he was practically shouting. David’s strength and determination marked his first foray into manhood. It was a hell of a time for his kid to start growing up.

“I know exactly what love is. What I don’t have is your rosy view of the future. You can say what you want about me, but know this. I love you and I have always been there for you. Whatever it took, whatever it cost, I was there. And I’ll be damned if I’ll stand by and watch you screw up your life.”

David blinked several times as if holding back tears. “It won’t be like that. Why can’t you see?”

“Because I’ve been there. I was seventeen when I married your mother. I know what it’s like to be your age and drowning in responsibility. It sucks big time.” He clenched his fists as he remembered the daily hell of wondering how much he could screw up the fragile life he’d been given to care for. Being David’s father in those early years had been terrifying.

“I would have given anything to walk away from it all, but I couldn’t,” Zach continued. “First you’re married, then she turns up pregnant and everything changes. I don’t want that for you.”

The second the words were out, he wanted to retract them. But it was too late. David took a step back. He bumped into the wingback chair and moved around it. His gaze never left his father’s face.

The anguish in his son’s eyes made Zach want to throw himself in front of a truck. “David, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that the way it came out.”

Tears spilled down David’s face. “You did,” he said, his voice harsh. “You did.”

“No.”

Zach moved toward him, but David held out a hand. “Stay away from me.”

“David!”

“No. I didn’t realize I’d made your life a living hell. You should have told me before that I was such a pain in the ass. I would have stayed out of your way.” He angrily brushed his hands across his face. “Don’t worry. I won’t bother you anymore.”

“David, wait.”

But his son was already bolting for the door. Zach hurried after him, but before he could catch up with him, David was gone. The front door slammed shut. Seconds later he heard the sound of his son’s car starting. Zach ran outside anyway, just in time to see David driving away. He stood there for a long time before he realized it was raining and that he needed to go back inside.

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