Authors: Nina Harrington
âI take it that this town was not close to any mountain
âOh, Amy had that all sorted out. There was a climbing wall in
the local school gym and cycling. Lots of cycling in this truly flat part of the
Midwest. Great schools for the kids, though! And so close to Mom and Dad.'
Saskia exhaled slowly and whispered, âOh dear.'
âIt got worse. I was crazy enough to agree to go and visit my
future in-laws the day after we got engaged and, within half an hour of arriving
at their mansion, it became pretty obvious that my lovely Amy had no clue about
who I was and where my spirit lay. The crunch came when her dad offered me a
nice secure nine-to-five job in his office supplies company over dinner that
evening. I politely declined and made it clear that Amy and I would be moving
very soon to California for my new career in the Burgess family wine trade.'
âHow did that little bombshell go down?'
âAmy started crying and screaming about how selfish I was. The
sisters started crying. Her mother started crying. And the father looked as
though he was about to cry. I left when her aunt and uncle started to cry.
Eighteen months later, Amy married a great bloke who was truly excited about a
career in office supplies. In fact, I got a Christmas card from them last year,
with a delightful photograph of the happy family and their two chubby
âShe didn't know you,' Saskia whispered with her eyes
âAnd I didn't know her. She told me that she wanted to share my
life as a professional sportsman but, when it came down to it, Amy wanted what
her parents had. A quiet, steady life in a quiet town, with me working a steady
day job. And I couldn't give that to her. We both dodged a bullet that would
have killed us one way or another.'
Rick sighed long and low. âEngaged for three days. That has to
be a record.'
A peal of laughter rang out from the patio and Rick smiled and
gestured towards the dining table. âBut these two? They've grown up together in
the same small town since junior school. They know how the other person ticks
and are building a life together and a future based on what they both want in
their hearts. I believe in them and think they'll stick it out. Otherwise, I
wouldn't have invested in a tiny vineyard like this.'
âThis is their home. They love it.'
He blinked and shook his head. âI couldn't do it. Stay in one
place every day of every year and be content doing so. Not for me.'
âWhy? What is so wrong with staying in one place and learning
to love it? I love London and I love my home. I couldn't think of living
Her voice tailed away. She thought wistfully of her old garden
and all the work waiting for her when she got back. Even in this stunningly
pretty vineyard, surrounded by people she would love to get to know better, she
couldn't wait to get back and start in her settled life with her friends.
Rick turned round so that his whole body was facing her when he
replied, those blue-grey eyes sparkling with excitement and passion with every
word he spoke. In the light from the kitchen, the sun-bleached front of his hair
contrasted with his tan to give him the air of a man who spent his days in the
fresh air and sunshine.
âHave you never wanted to travel, Saskia? To see the world in
all its glory? To watch the dawn come up over the Andes or climb up to Everest
base camp and sleep on the glacier? You can hear the ice creaking underneath
your tent as it slips away further down the mountain day by day. You can't
replace that. The excitement. The buzz I get from paragliding or mountaineering.
There's nothing like it. Nothing. I need that in my life, even if I have to
break the rules here and there to make it happen.'
Saskia could see the pulse in his neck race as he talked about
the life he led and just the way he spoke was enthralling.
He meant it. He would never settle down in one place. And in
some ways she felt sorry for him. But envious at the same. She had never known
that feeling of being free to do whatever she wanted and take off at a moment's
She yearned to tell him about the exotic places her parents had
dragged her to as a child, then leaving her in a hotel room with some stranger
while they went out to a nightclub or beach party. That her mother had made
sunbathing next to a pool into an art form while her academic daughter was left
in the shade alone to read books. Neither of her parents ever had the slightest
interest in the culture of the country they were visiting. Just the opposite.
They went out of their way to keep things as English as possible.
She had learnt the hard way what being a tourist was like.
That was not her lifeâbut it was his.
âYou're not a great fan of staying in one place and making a
stable home, are you, Rick?'
âSure I am. I love my chalet. Let's just say that rules have
their place but I have learned from personal experience that people who follow
the rules often don't have a clue what they're missing out on in life until it
is too late. I don't intend to let the rules get in the way of what I want to
âAnd what about promises?'
âAh. Now that, Gorgeous, is a very different matter. I make a
promise. I keep it. No negotiation. No compromise. Done deal.'
âAs simple as that? No second thoughts?' She smiled.
âNo. Never. I have learnt to trust my instincts and go with my
gut, no matter how risky it might look. If I make a mistake like I did with the
lovely Amy, then I accept it with a good heart and move on.'
Saskia took a sharp breath before asking, âDoes that apply to
the London wine store? Is that one of your risky ventures?'
âNot at all. I only take risks with my own skin and my own
money. Not other people's. Promises, remember?'
Then Rick froze and his gaze scanned her face, his eyebrows
crushed together, and Saskia felt that the air between them seemed to crackle
with electricity before he tipped her chin up and looked at her straight in the
âWait a minute. You said that this was a vanity project back in
London. Is that what is holding you back? You think that I have spent two years
making false promises to families like this one because of some arrogant whim to
show that I can pull this off until the next tantalising opportunity turns up?
Oh, Saskia. Just when I thought we were starting to work like a team. Sorry to
burst your little bubble, but I have never been so determined to see something
through in my life. I will create that store with you or without you. And I am
in it for the long-term. Does that answer your question? Excellent. Because now
it's over to you. The waiting time is over, Saskia. What is it going to be? Are
you in or are you out? I am not having this discussion again.'
And before she could even think about an answer, he raised one
hand and smiled across at the groom, who was gesturing for them to join them,
and without a single glance he strode off.
She watched him back-slapping the young men gathered around the
drinks table in the warm dusky glow as the women fluttered around like
butterflies in their pretty summer dresses and heels.
He wanted her decision. No. He had demanded it.
Rick was a risk-taker. That was not going to change. It was
what made him who he was and she had to respect that. Entrepreneurial.
Adventurous and driven. Those traits were a fundamental part of his nature,
which he had put to good use with his mentoring scheme and it was obvious to her
that it would attract exciting new winemakers.
Rick knew what he wanted and was not going to change for
And she admired him for that, more than she could say. How many
times had she gone the extra mile and had to change her plans to accommodate a
so called pal or client and they had not shown the slightest gratitude? She had
always been the one other people expected to change. Not the other way around.
Anything to avoid upsetting people or letting them down.
If she agreed to buy wine from him then she would have to
accommodate his attitude to taking risky decisions, which frankly bewildered
And maybe that would not be such a bad thing? She had been
independent for so long. Perhaps it was time to shake things up?
Saskia was still thinking through Rick's question when Nicole
strolled up to her in her long white lace wedding dress. She wound her arm
around Saskia's shoulder and gave her such a loving hug that Saskia felt like
crying all over again.
âCome and join the rest of us,' Nicole said with a smile. âI'm
so pleased that Rick brought you here today. It's so exciting to meet one of the
buyers who will help us bring our wine to the world.'
âI've had a wonderful time and you have made me feel very
welcome. Thank you, Nicole.'
âI'm glad. You know, twelve months ago we were unsure whether
we would be able to invest in the new cellar equipment we needed. Then Rick came
along out of the blue and suddenly everything seems possible. The mentoring
programme, technology and the best advice we could ever want; it seems like a
âIt's a miracle to me how Jean Baptiste and Rick can jump off a
cliff with a parachute strapped to their back. I was terrified this morning. Are
you not scared?'
âYes.' Nicole shrugged. âBut that's who he is. And I love him
for having that strength and courage to live his dream. We are so different, but
together we seem to balance each other out. We make a good team.'
Then Nicole tilted her head to one side with slightly raised
eyebrows. âI think you might know what that feels like.'
Saskia exhaled slowly and they both turned and looked towards
Rick, who was on his hands and knees in his lovely suit playing hide and seek
with the children under the table. âI'm beginning to,' she replied in a low
voice. âBut it might take me a while to get used to him.'
âStick with it,' Nicole said and hugged Saskia one last time
before stepping back. âIt has taken me six months to persuade Jean Baptiste to
take one week away just before the harvest so we can have a honeymoon.'
âCongratulations. Where you going?'
Nicole blinked. âWe fly to Napa Valley tomorrow morning for a
week-long international wine festival on the beach. All courtesy of Burgess
Wine. Didn't Rick tell you?'
âNo,' Saskia replied with a gentle smile. âHe never said a
was delighted about my brilliant idea for the new
wedding arch on my patio. Nicole and Jean Baptiste's wedding was so wonderful
todayâthanks to Rick for persuading me to go in the first place. Not that I
would admit that, of course. I had to pretend that it was a networking meeting
with two of his producers, but their wine is amazing.'
Saskia wiggled her shoulders back and forth and giggled like a
five-year-old. âIt's been years since I have been so excited about changing my
wine list and adapting my recipes to match. Oh, Kate, I really think that this
could be the boost I needed to take Elwood House to the next level. It is going
to be so magical that I can hardly wait to get started. Even if it does mean
taking the risk and buying wine from Rick.'
âMagical. Oh yes. Absolutely,' Kate murmured.
âDo you remember that chocolate cake I made for your engagement
party? The one you made me promise to make for your wedding? I might have found
the perfect dessert wine to match it. We're off to visit the vineyard tomorrow
in Alsace so I will be sure to bring a few bottles back for you to try.'
âOh, great cake. Lovely.'
âYou sound very absent-minded tonight.' Saskia laughed. âIs
work getting you stressed out again? Because, if it is, I can recommend some
fabulous hotels in the Chamonix area.'
âWork. Oh no. No...' Kate replied as though she was finding the
words hard to find.
Saskia paused. She knew Kate Lovat far too wellâsomething was
clearly bothering her but she wasn't talking. And that was not like Kate at all.
Shutting her up was more the usual problem.
âDid I mention that Rick Burgess is prancing up and down on my
bedroom carpet right at this very minute wearing nothing but a smile and that
wonderful silk dressing gown you gave me as a surprise present? He looks quite
charming in it. And that shade of cerise goes so well with his tattoos.'
âThat's lovely... What? He's doing what? And where are these
âUm...I thought that would wake you up. Come on. What's going
on? Tell me and get it over with. You know that I won't let you put the phone
down until you do. Out with it, Lovat. What's bothering you?'
There was a loud sigh at the other end of the phone. âBully. I
told Amber that you would want to know but we didn't want you to worry and spoil
Saskia sat up straight against her bed head.
Spoil her trip?
Alarm bells started sounding loud
and clear inside her head.
âWell, that is very reassuring. Come on, don't keep me in
suspense. You know that I have a vivid imagination. Oh no. There isn't some bad
news about Sheridan Press or your building permits for the new extension to your
studio, is there?'
âNo. Nothing to do with Amber or me.' Kate paused. âYou know we
had a big storm last night in London? Lots of wind, gales, that sort of storm.
And you know those really tall lime trees that are outside your bedroom window?
Well, one of the branches might have crashed into your house and cracked an
upstairs window and I am really sorry not to have told you earlier, but Heath
organised a glazier and it's all fixed and as good as new. All done. That's it.
That's the news. And I can breathe now.'
Saskia exhaled very slowly before speaking. âThe branch broke a
âCracked. Just cracked. No broken glass. All repaired. Nothing
to worry about. Really. Heath organised the men who are working at our place to
change the glass super-quick. And it wasn't raining...much. Sorry.'
Saskia closed her eyes and swallowed down hard. Then pressed
her thumb and forefinger tight onto the bridge of her nose.
âThere is nothing for you to feel sorry about. From the sound
of it, you and Heath saved the day and were total heroes and I owe you one
wonderful wedding in exchange. Thanks for being there, Kate. And thank Amber
too. I am so grateful that you were there to help me out.'
âNo problem. Have to scoot. My boy is back with the take-out
dinner. Bye, angel. Have a wonderful trip and see you soon. Bye.'
* * *
Rick heard Saskia's footsteps stomp up and down the
wooden floorboards in the other room and frowned.
He wasn't used to having overnight guests in his chalet, even
pretty ones. This had always been the one place on earth that he called his
One small spare bedroom. One kitchen diner and a cosy living
room with a huge fireplace. Perfect for a young couple or a bachelor.
And, handily, not so perfect for his parents and their
entourage, who preferred to stay at the local five-star hotel in Chamonix with
its award-winning restaurant and spa facilities.
Of course Tom had just laughed and called it âRick's garden
shed' and organised a high-tech Internet connection to be fitted at huge expense
while he was away for a couple of days.
Chuckling to himself, Rick hunkered down and poked at the log
fire which was burning brightly in the grate.
Saskia Elwood was a definite one-off. In more ways than
It had been quite a day and definitely time to relax with a
glass of something special.
He settled down with his feet up on his comfortable fireside
sofa, the music system playing a classical piano concerto, and was just reaching
for his glass of Merlot when the door to Saskia's bedroom was flung open and she
marched across the living room and stood in front of him, blocking his view of
Not that he was complaining because his new view was equally
Saskia was wearing a long silky dressing gown tied at the waist
with a sash which begged to be tugged away. Her hair was down and messed up
around her shoulders and her bare legs ended in toenails painted in the most
interesting shade of coral, which probably matched her dress but he had not
noticed before now.
But there was only one place which pulled his gaze and held it
there in a fierce magnetic attraction he had rarely felt before.
His mother used to tell him that the eyes were the window of
Damn right. And right now Saskia's pale blue eyes were telling
him that this soul was heading towards a very non-celestial place. Fire. Ice.
Cool iceberg-blue. All wrapped in turmoil and anxiety.
In fact he was not astonished in the least when she lifted her
chin and said in a quivering whisper of a voice, âI can't do it, Rick. I just.
Cannot. Do it.'
And then she burst into tears.
* * *
Sitting up straight on the sofa with Saskia's legs over
his lap, Rick rubbed some warmth into her frozen bare toes by rubbing them
gently between his palms. He had tried blowing on them but it turned out that
the girl was a lot more ticklish than she pretended and she had almost wriggled
off the sofa.
âHow does that feel?' he asked, smiling across at Saskia, who
was cocooned inside a warm fleecy blanket, sipping Rick's glass of wine. âAny
She replied with a small closed mouth smile. âI want you to
know that I am not usually such a mess.'
âNoted.' He nodded with a pretend serious look. âMiss Saskia
Elwood. London-based entrepreneur and expert dessert disher upper. Not a mess.
He waited for her low chuckle to die down before raising his
eyebrows and turning to face her. âIt was a broken window, Saskia.'
She groaned and covered her face with a sofa pillow. âI know, I
know. This is why I feel so totally pathetic at overreacting the way I did. And
I really am sorry about blubbing all over you and your sweater. It was most
unprofessional behaviour in front of my new wine merchant.'
Rick froze and then slowly turned his gaze to her feet, carried
on rubbing her toes and gave a wide-mouthed grin. âAs my very first buyer, I am
prepared to offer you this kind of customer service whenever needed. Good to
have you on board. So you can stop groaning. If it makes you feel any better, I
would like to think that we were friends before anything else. That works for
She took a long sip of wine and flashed him a shy smile before
whispering, âMe too.'
âExcellent,' he replied with a twisted smile and covered her
feet with the blanket. âAnd now that is settled, you can tell me why one broken
window is such a big deal and upsets you so badly. Between friends.'
Her head dropped back and the warm glow from the table lamps
and the flickering firelight reflected back from the crystal tumbler in her hand
before she slowly lowered it onto the coffee table.
Then, just as she was about to answer, Saskia gasped, grabbed
onto his sleeve with one hand and pointed towards the window on the other side
of the room with her other. âRick, look. It's snowing!'
* * *
Saskia threw off the blanket, wrapped it around her
shoulders, slipped her feet into a pair of Rick's shoes and stepped out onto a
long wooden terrace that ran outside the back of the chalet. And what she saw in
front of her took her breath away.
The sunshine and dry crisp weather they had enjoyed at the
vineyard had been replaced by heavy clouds in the cool night sky, creating a
dark ceiling without moon or stars. And, stretched out along the long valley
down below the chalet, was the picture postcard Alpine village that Rick called
The smell of wood smoke and pine resin filled her head with
their musky, heady scents. Warm golden squares of light shone out from the
chalet homes on either side of the river, interspersed with the occasional
street light so that it looked like a long winding ribbon of Chinese lanterns
which twisted away into the distance and the next valley.
And, falling straight down from the sky like a net curtain,
were light flurries of large, fluffy flakes of snow.
It was like something from a movie or a wonderful painting. A
moment so special that Saskia knew instinctively that she would never forget
And suddenly she understood why Rick had made this place his
home. Of course. It was his refuge, just as Elwood House was hers.
She loved London, she always had. Elwood House was in a popular
part of the city with a constant stream of traffic and pedestrians no matter
what time of day or night. The contrast to where she was standing could not be
greater. The village was quiet, tranquil and serene while her life seemed to be
in constant turmoil.
She grasped hold of the polished wooden railing and looked out
over the garden towards the mountains, her heart soaring, and she felt the
anxiety of the phone call with Kate slip away in the exuberant joy of the
Up above them was snow and ice, while she felt safe and
sheltered on this simple wooden terrace. It was icy-cold, snowing and her feet
were turning blue but she did not want to move from the spot. It was truly
It was almost a shock to feel a strong arm wrap her fleecy
blanket around her shoulders and tuck it in and she turned sideways to face Rick
with a grin and clutched onto the sleeve of his sweater.
âHave you seen this? It is astonishing. I thought the view from
the top of the cable car station was spectacular, but this is wonderful. I love
âI can see that on your face.'
Then he turned forward and came to stand next to her on the
balcony, his left hand just touching the outstretched fingers of her right.
âYou probably don't realise it, but there are very few people
who I would invite to share this chalet. But you are one of them. You have a
special gift, Saskia Elwood. I can tell from the way you describe your two
friends that you care about those girls and then do something about it. I don't
think that there is a selfish bone in your body. I admire that.'
âYou admire me? What do you mean?' Saskia asked, taken aback by
the tone in his voice. For the first time since they'd met, Rick sounded
hesitant and unsure, in total contrast to the man who had been joking with his
friends at the wedding.
Rick looked down at Saskia's fingers and his gaze seemed to
lock onto how his fingers could mesh with hers so completely. âThese past two
years have taught me that you don't know what life is going to throw at you,
Saskia. You can't. I've learnt to take the opportunities that come along and
enjoy them while I can, even if it does mean being totally single-minded.
Selfish even. Always on the move. Filling the day with life and activity. That's
the way I chose to live.'
Saskia looked into his face and remembered to breathe
âAnd how is that working for you?' She smiled.
Rick sighed low and long and shook his head briefly from side
to side. âMy parents are still strangers trying to come to terms with losing Tom
and I am not exactly helping by spending more time on the road than back at
base. Chamonix is a long way from Napa.'
âThat must be so hard, for all of you.'
He turned back and instantly switched on his smiley face.
But it was too late. She had taken a glimpse of who the real
man was beneath the mask he wore in public. And the shock was, she liked them
âOh, there are some benefits,' he replied, eyebrows high. âIt
means that instead of freezing my important bits off climbing some mountain in
Pakistan I am here in France enjoying time out with a lovely lady who might have
a different take on life.'