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Authors: Nina Harrington

Blame It on the Champagne (12 page)

BOOK: Blame It on the Champagne
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* * *

Saskia stood in the front porch of the
auberge
where they were staying and waved goodnight to
the last of the family of local winemakers who were still singing as they wound
their way down the narrow lane to their homes in the village.

Most of the inhabitants of the Alsace village had gathered
together to celebrate bringing in the wine harvest in the dining room of the
auberge,
and quite a few of the children
too.

There were going to be a lot of hangovers and bleary eyes
tomorrow morning. She checked her watch. Make that later
this
morning!

Thank goodness they all lived within walking distance. Or
should that be staggering distance? It'd been a brilliant celebration and the
winemakers had welcomed Rick with open arms. And when he'd announced from the
front of the room that she was going to be their very first buyer of the new
wine in London? She might as well have been an honorary member of the
family.

Her feet had never left the ground since.

The food was spectacular, the wine amazing and the atmosphere?
Oh, the people and the atmosphere had reminded her more than any words could say
of the tiny vineyard her Elwood grandparents had made their home. Working and
living with people whose lives revolved around tending the grapevines they had
inherited from generations of family winemakers before them.

Rick had been right. She did need to spend more time away from
London and all the pressures that came with Elwood House. She used to love
coming to Alsace as a girl to be with her family and yet somehow she never found
the time to take a real holiday.

But what could she do? Her life was in London and her
grandparents were long gone. How could she steal away for weekends and holidays
and spend more time here?

A shiver ran across Saskia's shoulders. The crisp night air was
cold enough for a light frost on the lawn and stars shone brightly in the
inky-dark pollution-free sky.

Breathing in deeply, she was just about to turn away when she
sensed Rick's presence behind her in the hallway, even before she had seen him.
A feather-light duvet coat fell onto her shoulders and she wriggled deeper
inside it.

Rick came up and stood beside her and she felt one arm wrap
around her waist and snuggle her to him for warmth.

She sighed and tutted out loud. ‘Aren't you cold?' she asked in
a joking voice as she took in his shirt sleeves.

‘Not a bit.' He smiled. ‘This is nothing. And, besides, I've
got a girl to keep me warm.'

‘Have you indeed?' She play thumped him on the arm, which only
hurt her hand and did nothing to him at all. ‘Well, in that case, Mr Cool, thank
you for the coat. It is too gorgeous an evening to say goodnight quite yet. Look
at the stars!'

His reply was to pull her closer.

Saskia gazed up into his face. In the warm golden light from
the porch she could make out the stubble on his tanned chin and upper lip and
the way his hair curled around his ears and onto the pristine white shirt. It
was so, so tempting to raise one hand and stroke that chin and find out if her
memory of his kisses matched the reality of the man she was holding now.

Almost as if he could read her mind, Rick glanced at her and
his dark eyelashes fluttered slightly in hesitation before he pressed his lips,
those warm, full lips, against her forehead and held them there until her eyes
closed with the sheer pleasure of his touch. It was almost a physical loss when
he slid his chin onto the top of her head and exhaled slowly. She could feel his
heart race to match hers.

Saskia closed her eyes and revelled in the sheer sensation of
being held in Rick's arms. She wanted this moment to last as long as possible.
To hold on to the glorious feeling that came with knowing that she was in the
right place at the right time with the right person.

Especially if that person had a stubbly face and spectacular
broad shoulders.

Rick Burgess made her heart sing just at the sight of him and
her knees wobble at his touch.

How had that happened?

No. She was not going to overanalyse it. She was going to allow
herself, for once, to relax and live in this moment. Not thinking about all of
the things that she should be doing or planning for the next event.

Just living in the moment. And enjoying that moment to its full
potential.

She had never truly done that before. Ever.

Ever since she could remember, her life had been one long
series of lists of things that she should do or should not do, when to speak,
what to say and how to act. To be released from that pressure felt magical.

And she knew just who to thank for showing her what her life
could be like, given the chance.

The man who was holding her now. Rick the Reckless—who was not
so very reckless after all. He was just...Rick.

This man had pressed buttons she did not know that she even
had. And a few which surprised her. Shown her what being in love could be truly
like.

She tilted her head so that she could look more closely at the
pulse in his neck, his chest rising and falling.

She was willing to take that risk with this man.

Watching him now, his face relaxed, warm, handsome, it would be
so easy to be seduced into the sweet and tender kisses of the man she had come
to care so very much about.

Tonight had swept away any lingering, unspoken doubts she could
have had.

This was what she had truly been frightened of, what she had
always feared would happen when she gave her heart.

And she had truly given her heart, no doubt about it.

They had become attached with bonds you could not cut with a
sharp tongue or kitchen knife.

She was doomed.

No. She would never forget him. His laughter. His teasing. His
touch on her skin.

How could she walk away from this man? When she wanted him.
Knowing that she was setting herself up for loneliness and pain if she walked
down that road.

Rick stirred slightly and she grinned up at him. ‘It was a
wonderful evening. Thank you for making it possible for me to be here.'

Rick chuckled for a moment before answering. ‘You are most
welcome. I only hope that I can still dance like our host's grandfather when I
get to his age.'

She slowly twisted her body around so that there were only
inches between them, so close she could feel the warmth of his breath on her
face as it condensed into a fine mist in the cold air.

The sound of laughter from the
auberge
owner and his family drifted out from the dining room and
they both turned around to listen and then smiled at one another.

‘I know. This trip has brought back so many happy memories,'
she whispered, her voice low as she scanned his face. ‘I'm only sorry that I
didn't come back to France sooner. But, after Aunt Margot died, I felt that I
had to keep busy. It is too easy to mope on holiday.'

Rick raised his hand and stroked her cheek with his fingertips
from temple to neck, then back again, forcing her to look into his eyes.

‘I know what you mean. Listening to you talk about your aunt
has helped me realise that I have never stopped in one place long enough to get
over Tom's death and grieve his loss the way you have tried to do. One more
point to you, Saskia Elwood. Miracle-worker. ‘

Saskia looked up into Rick's lovely eyes as he gently stroked
her face, before replying. ‘Me? Not a bit. I prefer to think that France has
worked its magic on both of us. I have always loved it here. And if it wasn't
for my dad...well, perhaps my life would have taken a different turn.'

Then she pressed her fingers to his lips, her eyes never
leaving his. ‘But then, we might never have met. And my world would have been a
much sadder place.'

Rick's response was to draw her body closer to his, so that her
head was resting on his broad shoulder, cuddling into his warmth, sensing and
hearing the pounding of his heart as she slid her arms around his waist.

She had no need of hearing.

No need of sight.

The smell of his body, dancing sweat, and him, his own perfume,
combined with the smooth texture of his fine shirt above the powerful muscles
that lay below to create a heavenly pillow.

So that when she finally dared to break the silence her words
were muffled in his chest. ‘I plan to make some changes in my life when I get
back to London. Even with managing Elwood House. I want to take time for short
breaks. Life is so short. These past few days have made me realise just how much
I miss being back in France. There are second cousins still here and I haven't
seen my mother since April. I don't know how I'll manage it, but I need to make
it happen.'

‘You'll do it. And don't worry about Elwood House. If you allow
me to invest in the business, you could train a wonderful deputy manager. No
problem.'

‘Really?'

‘Really really.' He smiled. ‘Family has to come first. I only
wish that I had realised it earlier.'

There was a subtle change in the tone of his voice and Saskia
looked up as Rick's gaze fixed on the movement of wind in the pine trees and the
stars above them. He had a faraway look in his eyes as though he was talking to
the sky itself. His softly spoken words had the power to penetrate her heart and
bring burning tears to the back of her throat.

‘I never had a chance to say goodbye to my brother Tom.'

Rick's hand moved in gentle circles on her back.

‘I was climbing in the Andes and out of reach of the rest of
the world. No Internet, no cellphones, no bombardment and clamour of the world.
No constant noise and clutter. It had taken us three weeks to walk in and
acclimatise to the altitude. Which was just how I liked it. We were a small team
who knew what we were doing and what we were up against, working together and
pitting ourselves against the best. We were the best!'

Rick slowly lowered his gaze so that they were facing each
other and Saskia felt the air between them chill even further.

‘Everything is so simple on a mountain. She strips you down to
your most basic essence. No prisoners. It is a battle of you and your skills
against nature and everything that she can throw at you. In theory, that should
prepare you for anything in the outside world. But let me tell you, when I saw
that helicopter coming up over the horizon at our base camp on the glacier?
Suddenly I had a lot more to worry about than falling into crevasses and
frostbite.'

He cleared his throat and shook his head.

‘The minute I jumped into that helicopter I had this aching raw
pit in my gut and every instinct that I ever had was screaming out a warning
sign in big red letters. I knew that I was in trouble. But I had no clue about
what I was about to face.'

His cheek rested on her head and she could feel the intensity
of the vibration in his words through her skin.

‘It had taken my parents three days to track the expedition
down and pay a helicopter pilot to risk flying in at those altitudes. Three days
was too long. Not even a private jet and police escorts could get me back to
Napa Valley any faster. Tom never came out of the coma and died several times in
the hospital, but it would have been nice to say something to him before he took
his last breath.'

Rick's words were coming in jagged bursts as though he was
holding back suppressed pain and she longed to help him express how he felt, but
she dared not in case the flood waters engulfed her once she released the
dam.

‘He knew that you cared about him. I could see it in that
photograph you showed me in the chalet. You were close.'

‘Tom was my big brother and I thought that he was invincible
and would always be there for me to fall back on. And I was wrong. Wrong about a
lot of things.'

He smiled and rubbed his cold nose against hers. ‘But not any
longer. You've made a change in my life, Saskia. Helped me to get a few things
straight in my head.'

‘Me? How have I helped you?'

‘Jean Baptiste and Nicole are on their way to a trade fair in
California which Tom created so that independent producers could showcase what
they do. I should be there right now to help and support my parents. Burgess
Wine is the main sponsor. I need to be there. But there is always some great
excuse why there's a burning problem in Europe that I have to solve in person or
the world will end.'

He held up one hand. ‘Oh, don't misunderstand. I want this
London store to happen and I need to be based in Europe to see it through. But
the truth is more basic than that. The more that I think about it, the more I
realise that I have been so determined to prove to the world that I'm not the
black sheep of the family any longer that I have been burning myself out running
around the world, while all the time my parents needed me to be with them. To
help them come to terms with losing Tom as a family. And I couldn't do it. I
wasn't ready to try and didn't have the tools I needed to make it happen.'

He exhaled slowly and very gently released his arms from around
her body, and stepped slightly back. ‘Which makes me a fool. My parents are in
their sixties. They need me to be their son and to work with them to carry on
Tom's legacy. Instead of which, I am acting like a stubborn child who refuses to
put on the hand-me-down clothes my older brother used to wear and resenting
every second of having to change my identity to fit into his shoes.'

Rick shook his head slowly from side to side and tapped her
gently on the end of her nose. ‘Well, that stops today, gorgeous. I am going
back to Napa to build bridges and this time it's because I want to, not because
I am the only option that they have left.'

BOOK: Blame It on the Champagne
5.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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