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Authors: Nina Harrington

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BOOK: Blame It on the Champagne
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She was still watching him slip into a harness when Rick slid
closer and whispered into her ear. ‘You've just been talking to one of the most
promising members of the French paragliding team. Jean Baptiste is a star. All I
can do is help him with a few pointers now and then when he thinks he needs
coaching. But he knows what he is doing.'

‘Good,' Saskia gasped. ‘Because I am terrified just watching
him walk over the edge onto that slope. I have no idea how he can do that.'

Rick burst out laughing and she scowled at him.

‘It's not funny. We all have our weaknesses and this happens to
be mine,' she whispered through clenched teeth. ‘And you really should warn me
about these little adventures in advance. You knew that I wouldn't be able to
refuse Jean Baptiste and I have so much work to do I'm never going to catch

‘Where would be the fun in that? So you're not tempted to take
up my offer and jump into the harness with me?' he asked, waggling his eyebrows
up and down several times, and then reared back. ‘Oh, now that is a fierce look.
I'll take it as a no.'

Rick pressed a hand to the small of her back and guided her
just a little closer to the edge, then opened her hand, splayed out her fingers
and flashed her one of his killer smiles. For just one second Saskia thought
that he might kiss her fingers, but instead he dropped a large bunch of keys
onto her palm and closed her fingers over them.

‘I'm flying down. But I could really use a pickup from the
landing site. You can work out where it is. Please try not to crash my truck,
and have some fun! I'm going to.'

Fun! Crash!

Saskia glared at the keys but when she looked up Rick was
already sitting just below Jean Baptiste on the slope, on the steep curvature of
the mountain with his backpack open, splaying out the ropes of his parachute and

Risking vertigo, Saskia edged closer to the cliff so that she
could see what he was doing. ‘Do be careful,' she called out. He must've heard
her because he replied with a quick salute to his helmet and then untangled one
of the ropes which ran between his harness and the bright orange curve of a
fluted canopy which extended behind his head.

Then, as she watched with her hand pressed over her mouth, her
hair whipping in front of her face in the breeze, Rick got to his feet. He took
a couple of steps forward and the canopy seemed to inflate all on its own behind
him, making the rope lines go straight.

And then Rick Burgess ran off the edge of the mountain.

Her heart leapt into her throat. She could not move. Dared not
move. But, by leaning one more inch closer to the edge, she could see that his
parachute had formed a perfect rippling rainbow arc in the sky just below her.
She couldn't move her gaze from the tiny figure suspended by the ropes

He was sitting in some form of fabric seat made from his
harness, with his legs dangling over... Nothing but air. Hundreds of feet,
possibly thousands of feet, of air.

Saskia sucked in a breath as the orange canopy fluttered
slightly as he turned it towards the forest of pine trees they had passed over
on the way up from the safety of the gondola ski lift.

He was spinning out of control and was going to crash into the
forest! Saskia's hand pressed firmly into her mouth. But he didn't. The
parachute made a slow, gentle spiral away from the rocky mountainside and
forests below and turned back across the valley, spiralling in slow wide circles
ever downward.

Her hands were clutching the keys so hard as she watched him
descend that the points were pressing painfully into her flesh, but she could
not look away. She had to keep watching Rick as he circled down, down, moving
towards the mountain and then back towards the Chamonix valley. Their landing
field was so far below the viewpoint that for a fraction of a second she lost
sight of Rick behind some trees on the ground.

Had his harness come undone? Had he fallen out? No. She was
able to breathe again. There he was. Moving in tighter and tighter circles
towards the other parachute. And just when she thought he was on the same height
as the first trees next to the white flowing river, he was down. On the ground.

Saskia's legs gave way and she sat down heavily on the rough
path of gravel and Alpine grasses.

Collapsed down would be a better description.

Now she could breathe again.
If she
remembered how. Because Jean Baptiste was getting ready to do exactly the
same thing! And he was getting married today!

Her chest had only risen and fallen a few times when the
familiar ringtone of her cellphone sang out and she flicked it open to read a
text message:
Down safe and well. Great flight. See you
soon. R.

Her fingers clumsily stabbed at the keypad.
Terrifying. Heading back now. S.

Her shoulders slumped. And she flicked her phone closed.

Rick had been impressive. Watching his flight had been
terrifying, horrific, awe-inspiring—and totally exhilarating at the same

Rick clearly did know what he was doing and Jean Baptiste
respected him as a friend and a mentor and as a coach. That meant a lot.

The two men were friends and sportsmen working together to make
something remarkable happen. A tiny bubble of pride in what Rick had achieved
rose up from her admiration and popped into her brain before her logic could
burst it.

How many more sides to Rick Burgess were there?

She had seen Rick in full-on salesman mode at Elwood House back
in London.

Rick the wine merchant was a different man at the Chateau Morel
and now Rick the friend and paraglider was taking the lead at home in the

She had never met anyone who was so capable of astonishing her
on a daily basis.

His life seemed to be one series of constant personal
challenges, all fuelled by a burning sense of life and energy and passion and

No doubt about it. He was an achiever and he worked hard for
those achievements.

Kate had been wrong about him.

He was not Rick the Reckless. He knew the risks and made the
judgement call based on skills and talent and experience rather than some
arrogant sense of his own self-importance.

Perhaps she was wrong about the wine store? Perhaps this was
not a vanity project, but a real business initiative created by someone with
genuine entrepreneurial zeal and passion for what they believed in.

Saskia stood up and brushed the dirt from the seat of her
pants, then looked over the cliff for the landing site far below, where a blue
canopy was now stretched out next to an orange one and she instantly felt sick
and dizzy.

She might have been wrong about Rick, but there was one thing
she was definitely clear about. There was no way she would ever,
jump off a cliff with a fabric bag above her
head to break her fall. Even if she was strapped to Rick at the time.

She liked her feet to stay firmly on solid ground. Safe.

She stepped back from the edge and started strolling down to
the ski station to catch the gondola back to the valley.

A cold hollow feeling swelled up in the pit of her stomach and
it had nothing to do with the icy-cold wind that was blowing in from the snowy
peaks around her.

She recognised that feeling only too well. It was a present
from her old friends, fear and anxiety.

What was she doing here?

There was only one way this trip was going to end and it was in
disappointment and regret for both of them.

She was too afraid to make the leap.

Whether that was running off a mountain strapped to Rick, or
taking such risks in her life.

She dared not risk that precious security that she had worked
so hard to create by giving her time and energy to RB Wines, and it would be a
lot of her time, she could see that now.

Now all she had to do was work out how to tell Rick that she
could not accept what he had to offer; and mean it.


Must-Do list

  • You are going to a wedding—the worst kind of emotional
    blackmail. Rick should be ashamed.
  • It is okay to admit that you are not keen on heights.
    This is not a weakness at all. Simply a statement of fact.
  • It is okay to admire men who jump off mountains with a
    grin on their face—just for fun. But that does not mean that you have to
    buy wine from them. Oh no.
  • It is okay to let people surprise you on a daily

‘What a
dress. That colour is amazing on you.'

‘Thank you, kind sir,' Saskia replied and turned around to face
Rick. ‘My friends tell me that coral is very fashionable this season and...' But
then the words stuck in her throat.

Rick Burgess was wearing a suit. And not just any suit. This
was a silk and cashmere blend that Kate would have slobbered over. Midnight-blue
with a tiny paler blue stripe, which fitted his broad shoulders and narrow waist
to perfection.

Matched with a pale blue shirt which highlighted his tan and a
pink and blue tie.

He looked like a male model who had just walked off a fashion
display. Tall, dark, clean-shaven, swept back hair and so handsome it was a
joke. There were movie actors who did not look that good.

‘My, this is quite a transformation, Mr Burgess.'

Rick glanced down at his suit and smiled. ‘Oh this little old
thing? I like to wear it now and again to keep the moths away.'

‘Moths? Um. So you wear a gorgeous made-to-measure suit, and
yes, I know that to be a fact because my very good friend Kate is a fashion
designer, for a local wedding in rural France, but choose a leather jacket for a
business meeting in London? How curious. You really do like to play with
people's expectations, don't you?'

‘Play? Are you implying that this is some sort of a game, Miss

Saskia strolled forward on her high heeled sandals and reached
up and straightened out the yellow rosebud on his lapel and then stepped back,
gave his jacket one final pat and nodded.

‘Maybe. But you are quite an expert player. I have tried so
many times over the past few days to switch to work or our business and so far
you have succeeded in diverting me to a fabulous champagne chateau, a
paragliding flight and now a wedding party. I can squeeze in two hours tops but
that is it! Seriously! Should I expect fireworks and a grand finale before we
actually get around to doing the work?'

He snorted out loud and strolled over to the fireplace, which
was crackling with resin from the pine wood logs, and picked up a set of
cufflinks from the mantelpiece.

‘You're starting to understand. I do things my way. We'll get
the work done. You wait and see.'

Saskia sighed and picked up a silver-framed photograph from the
bookshelf next to the fireplace. In the photograph, Rick was standing on what
looked like a podium, dressed in black ski shirt and trousers and mirror shades,
with his arm around a taller man who was squinting at the camera as the sun
reflected back from the snow. The taller man was wearing smart beige trousers
with a crisp front pleat and a formal check shirt and tie. In contrast to Rick,
his body language was stiff and he looked very uncomfortable standing on the

She sensed rather than heard that Rick had strolled closer and
looked over her shoulder at him.

‘Is this your brother? Tom, isn't it?'

Rick glanced at the photograph in her hands, then coughed out
loud. ‘That's Tom all right.
one of life's
natural sportsmen. He turned up out of the blue just in time to see me take the
championship for jumping from the top of Mont Blanc. Typical. Right place and
right time. I think it was the first time he had ever been on a mountain in the
snow and I seem to remember that he had a problem with the ski lift.'

Rick glanced at Saskia and smiled. ‘In those days it was a
wooden bench attached to a chain bar at the front to stop you from falling out,
but your legs dangled over the huge drop.' He shook his head. ‘We came down off
the mountain in a snow plough. Can you believe that?'

‘That sounds perfectly sensible. I understand completely.' She
laughed and replaced the picture on the shelf. ‘I would have done exactly the
same thing. What is Tom doing now? Is he still in the wine trade?'

Rick's eyebrows came together and he turned away from her and
slowly walked over to the fireplace and rested one hand on the mantelpiece as he
raked over the burning logs with a heavy metal poker.


His gaze was locked onto the burning embers, but when he
replied his voice was ice-cold. ‘I thought that you already knew. Tom died,
Saskia. He died two years ago.'

She gasped and crossed the gap between them and laid her hand
gently on his arm.

He looked around and their eyes locked for a few seconds before
a silent smile clicked back on.

And in that instant her heart melted.

Because, for the first time since they'd met, she knew that she
had finally seen the real Richard Burgess beneath the tough man shell.

He had lost the brother he adored and it still hurt. It hurt so
badly that he was incapable of expressing it. Two years was not nearly long
enough to recover from that kind of loss.

Two years. Why did that stick in her mind?

Of course.
Rick had been working
for Burgess Wine for two years.

She should have known. She should have done her research.

Saskia broke the silence, her voice low, to disguise her
thumping heart. ‘I am so sorry. I didn't mean to pry. It was really none of my
business and I feel awful to have brought back such painful memories.'

Rick answered by reaching out and taking Saskia's hand in his,
startling her. He slowly splayed out each finger as she tried to clench her hand
into a fist and stared down at her palm.

She couldn't breathe. Could hardly dare to speak at the sadness
and regret in the man's voice; a sadness that almost overwhelmed her, a sadness
that made her want to wrap her arms around him and hold him.

‘Long life line.' He looked up into her eyes. ‘Most people take
a little longer to make the connection, but you've worked it out already,
haven't you?'

He lifted one hand and pushed his hair back from his forehead.
‘No regrets. Once an adrenalin junkie, always an adrenalin junkie. But you know
what? We were not so different. Tom used to get exactly the same rush from
solving some complex IT problem. He loved his work. Couldn't get enough.'

Saskia looked up and raised her eyebrows, and let him

Rick stopped and physically turned Saskia around and gestured
towards the window, which was dominated by the towering mountain that was Mont

‘I remember when that photograph was taken as though it was
yesterday. The biting cold. The brilliant sunshine. The exhilaration that comes
from jumping from the top of the mountain with only a parachute and a pair of

He looked at Saskia and grinned. ‘Those sorts of memories have
to be earned. You can't buy them or trade them. You just have to be there, at
that moment in time and space. That's special. And Tom understood that. He
really did. He had built up Burgess Wine from nothing by risking the business on
an Internet system for selling wine which he didn't know would work or not. We
were both risk-takers, just in different fields. We had so many great ideas
about working together on some grandiose project or other, but not once did he
ever try and make me walk away from life as a sportsman. That was always going
to have to be my choice.'

Saskia turned her back on Rick, then whipped around, her voice
trembling. ‘I've never understood it. Never. People in London who knew my
parents think that I have somehow come to terms with the terrible risks my dad
took with other people's money for years before it all collapsed, but they are
so wrong. You heard it with your own ears at Chateau Morel. People have long
memories. They remember your brother for the best reasons and my dad for the
worst. And, like it or not, we are both suffering from the fallout.'

She stretched out her hand towards Rick as he started to speak,
but she turned back to face him so quickly that he caught her off balance, and
he had to grab her around the waist and pull her towards him to steady her.

Saskia pushed down on his shoulders to steady herself, and made
the mistake of looking into his face. And was lost, drowning in the deep pools
of his eyes, which seemed to magically bind her so tight that resistance was
futile. She tried to focus on the tanned, creased forehead above a mouth that
was soft and wide.


He was wearing an aftershave that smelt of warm spice, his head
and throat were only inches from her face, her bosom pressed against the fine
fabric. In a fraction of a second, Saskia was conscious that his hand had taken
a firmer grip around her waist, moving over her thin silk dress as though it was
the finest lingerie, so that she could sense the heat of his fingertips on her
warm skin beneath.

She felt something connect in her gut, took a deep breath and
watched words form in that amazing mouth.

‘I think we make our own destiny...' Rick whispered, his gaze
locked onto her eyes, and slowly closed the gap between their bodies, drawing
her towards him by invisible ropes of steel.

‘Destiny...?' she whispered.

‘Who dares wins. Don't you take chances, Saskia?'

‘Only with you...' Saskia replied, but the words were driven
from her mind as Rick's fingers wound up into her hair and, drawing her closer,
he slanted his head so that his warm, soft lips gently glided over hers, then
firmer, hotter.

The sensation blew away any vague idea that might have been
forming in her head that she could resist this man for one second longer. Her
eyes closed as heat rushed from her toes to the tips of her ears and everything
else in the world was lost in the giddy sensation.

She wanted the earth to stop spinning so that this moment could
last for ever.

Before she could change her mind, Saskia Elwood closed her eyes
and kissed Rick Burgess back, tasting the heat of his mouth, a heady smell of
coffee, chocolate crumbs and aftershave, sensing his resistance melt as he moved
deeper into the kiss, her own arms lifting to wrap around his neck.

She let the pressure of his lips and the scent and sensation of
his body warm every cell in her body before she finally pulled her head

Rick looked up at her with those blue-grey eyes, his chest
responding to his faster breathing, and whispered, ‘Here's to taking chances,'
before sliding his hand down the whole length of her back and onto her waist,
the pressure drawing her forward as he moved his head into her neck and throat,
kissing her on the collarbone, then up behind her ears, his fingers moving in
wide circles over her back.

‘Hey Rick, just to let you know that I dropped that champagne
off at Nicole's place... Oops. Later...'

Saskia opened her eyes in time to see the back of a man's coat
jog out of the door and in one single movement she pulled back and smoothed down
the ruffled fabric of her dress with one hand as she gathered up her hair, which
had mysteriously become untied.

‘ to get my bag,' Saskia just about managed to
stammer out and waved her hand towards the bedroom. ‘Handbag. For the wedding.
And do something with my hair. Ten minutes.'

Rick coughed. ‘Great idea. Ten minutes. Right.'

* * *

Rick stood at the table and flicked through his notes on
the speech that he planned to give at the wedding party, but the words refused
to sink in.

All he could think about was Saskia.

He hadn't planned to kiss her or touch her but one touch was
all it needed for him to give in to the magnetic attraction he'd felt for Saskia
since that first time he'd seen her standing on the pavement only a few days

His eyes squeezed tight with frustration.

When had he become such an idiot? And just when he'd thought
that she was close to agreeing to work with him, trying to achieve something.
Together. As his business partner and best customer, not his lover.

He had tried that before with a girl he'd thought he knew and
been burnt.

Saskia had been honest with him from day one.

She was scared about stepping outside her world and working
with him, he could see that. And now he might just have blown their fledgling
relationship out of the water.

In a few short days Saskia had become a friend, the person he
wanted to talk to and spend time with.

But what happened now?

Because one thing was clear. He would only make a commitment to
Saskia Elwood that he was prepared to deliver. His life could change at a
moment's notice. He was the last kind of man who could give her what she

Last night in the restaurant his neighbours had teased him
mercilessly with their gentle ribbing about him bringing a girl home for once.
Even the waitress had whispered sweet words about his pretty
in his ear on the way out. And now he was off
to Nicole and Jean's wedding with an unexpected lady guest.

Little wonder that his friend had seen him with Saskia and
thought they were more than work colleagues.

Well, they were wrong.
In so many
He was not the kind of man who wanted a long-term relationship
and Saskia must have worked that out for herself. She was a clever girl.

Except...when he'd kissed her face? Everything had changed.

BOOK: Blame It on the Champagne
7.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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