PREGNANCY PROPOSAL: EXCERPT
Heath Saxon's footsteps echoed against the polished stone floor as he walked through the deserted reception area of Saxon's Folly Estate and Wines. He had expected more fanfare over his return as winemaker to the illustrious Saxon's Folly winery, located in the Hawkes Bay on the east coast of New Zealand. An olive branch from his father on his first morning would have been welcome. A fatted calf even better. After all, it wasn't every day that the family bad boy came back.
So maybe he hadn't come a long way in mileshe lived over in the next valley and most Thursday nights came for dinnerbut the emotional gap he'd covered by returning spanned more than physical distance. Ever since that final, fierce altercation with his father he'd stayed well away from the winery itself where he'd once toiled long hours creating fine wines using a blend of science and art. Business and family just didn't mix.
Now he stared around the winery. The oak vats smelled exactly as he remembered from when he'd been chief wine-maker here.
Every muscle tightened at the sound of the soft voice behind him. Amy. He turned and his eyes drank in the sight of her.
A tentative smile played on her pearly-pink lips. Her bobbed dark-chocolate hair was smoothly tucked behind her ears, gold studs glinting in her lobes. Subtle makeup, only enough to hide the dark circles beneath her golden eyes, nothing more. If it hadn't been for those molten eyes, she would've looked like a schoolgirl. Not frumpy, but almost too neat to be true in the white shirt with a rounded collar and the navy skirt.
Or maybe not. Inside he sighed silently. He'd planned to avoid Amy today. All week. Forever, if he could. He started to move away. "Yes, Amy?"
The smile faded. "Taine just called in sick. He says it's a only a sore throat and he should be back at work tomorrow."
Taine was one of the Saxon's Folly cellar hands. "That's fine."
"He says to give him a call and he'll give you an update on what he was supposed to do today."
"I'll call him back."
Amy hovered. "Thanks, Heath."
"My pleasure." He bit off dark thoughts about what really was his pleasure. Amy's mouth swollen with his kisses...Amy lying on his bed...Amy saying
Hell, why was he torturing himself like this?
He need look no further than her pursed pale-pink mouth to know that none of that was going to happen.
"Yes?" He'd tried to control his frustration but Amy's amber-gold eyes darkened at his tone. "Sorry, I was thinking about finding Jim" the other cellar hand "to let him know Taine wouldn't be in."
"I simply wanted to be the first to say welcome back." Pursing her mouth into a tight bud, she tipped her nose in the air and turned on her heel and stalked away.
Heath was left watching her trim bottom in the demure navy skirt, her straight back retreat. He restrained the fierce urge to swear.
First day back and he'd managed to offend Amy Wright.
So what else was new? He should be used to it by now. Ever since he'd waded in and bought the bankrupt Chosen Valley vineyard from Ralph Wright, Amy's father, he'd been separated from her and his family by more than just the range of hills between the two wineries that was appropriately named The Divide.
His heroic gesture had offended even Amy, who hadn't recognized it for what it wasan attempt to rescue her and her father from a crippling cycle of debt. As for his own father, Phillip Saxon had seen it as an attempt to go into direct competition with Saxon's Folly. Heath shook his head. Perhaps his armour was so tarnished no one could recognize his good intentions any more. So he'd retreated into grim silence, and the gap between him and his family--and him and Amy-- had widened.
And now he was back at Saxon's Folly. Because Saxon's Folly needed a chief winemaker. Caitlyn Ross, the previous winemaker, had left to get married--to start a new life in Spain with Rafaelo, the half brother Heath had slowly grown to like and respect over the past few weeks.
Of course his father hadn't asked him to return. The old man was too full of stiff-necked pride for that. It had been Caitlyn who'd begged him to come back so that she could leave Saxon's Folly with a clear conscience.
It felt strange to be back. Heath's gaze narrowed as Amy disappeared through the arch that led into the reception area.
Heath suspected that once again his soft heart was going to cost him. Dearly.
For Amy the morning passed in a rush. The phone hadn't stopped ringing and everyone demanded her attention. With Saxon's Folly Summer Festivala Christmas Eve celebration of the ripening grapesnow a little over three weeks away, a final panic had settled in.
"Amy could you order more candles for the carols ceremony?"
"Amy, would you mind getting these brochures printed?"
"Don't forget to hire three marquees for the festival, Amy."
"Omigod, Amy! Kelly Christie just called to say that she'd like to cover the festival for the Christmas Day edition of her midday TV show."
Most of the organizing was already donewith some things, like booking the jazz bands, done a year in advancebut last-minute crazy details like Kelly Christie kept cropping up. It hadn't been this bad last year. Amy wasn't stupid; she was the reason why there had been a constant stream of people arriving at her desk with requests. It had been going onalbeit on a slightly less insane scalefor weeks. No, make that months. Two months to be precise.
The Saxons were worried about her. She wished she could tell them that she was fine but they didn't ask. Their concern just lay in their eyes, in the way they hovered around her, coming with requests in person rather than phoning or e-mailing what they wanted through to her.
The only one who didn't have a million questions to ask or a zillion mundane tasks to keep her busy today was Heath Saxon.
Black sheep. Hothead. Bad boy.
She shut her eyes. She should've been grateful that he'd kept his distance on his first day back, she should be saying thanks to
"Amy, do you know where Alyssa is?"
Eyes snapping open, she found Megan, the youngest Saxon, in front of her.
Megan was staring at her in a way that made Amy'sheart sink.
"Are you all right, sweetie?"
"I'm fine," Amy reassured her. For the past two months everyone had been handling her with kid gloves. It was time for the PA of Saxon's Folly to get back to normal. "Sorry, you caught me daydreaming. I think Alyssa went into town with your brother."
Naturally Alyssa had gone with Joshua, her fiancé. Who else could she have gone with? Heath, of course, he was back at Saxon's Folly. But then Amy got a good look at Megan's face. She looked sad. Megan must be thinking about Roland. Amy swallowed and glanced away before the tears came.
There was a silence.
"Sweetie, don't be so hard on yourself. Give yourself a break." The gentleness in Megan's voice made Amy's throat grow thick.
She bit back the sob that threatened. "Really, I'm fine!"
But Megan's concerned eyes told her she didn't believe it.
"Okay, I'm just feeling a little emotional today." Amy dragged in a shaky breath. She pushed the strand of hair that had fallen over her forehead back behind her ears. "An Auckland florist called. Roland ordered a bouquet for me... they wanted to know what colours I was choosing for the wedding, so they could select suitable ribbons for the bouquet."
"Oh, my God." Megan covered her mouth. "Sweetie, I'm so sorry." She came forward in a rush.
Bracing her hands on the counter separating them, Amy shrank away. If Megan hugged her she was going to cry. She knew it. She shook her head frantically. "It's okay, really it is."
"No, it's not okay. Roland"
"is dead." She didn't want more pity. "And there won't be a wedding." Megan must be hurting too. Roland had been her adopted brother, though no one had known he was adopted until a little over a month ago.
"Amy, I'm so sorry." Megan covered Amy's hands where they lay on top of the reception counter.
Amy fisted her fingers. "Me too. He wasn't supposed to die."
"No, you were supposed to get married... live happily ever after. That's all youeveryoneever wanted."
Amy's mouth trembled. "I think I was fourteen when I decided I was going to marry Roland Saxon. I told him when I turned sixteen but he said I was too young for him. So I proposed at my seventeenth birthday dinner." After he'd kissed her outside in the romance of the dark summer's night... kisses meant true love and marriage, didn't they?
How young she'd been. How very idealistic.
Megan's cell phone rang.
"You'd better get that," Amy said, sliding a hand out from under Megan's to rip a tissue from the box on her desk and determinedly wipe her eyes. The outside line rang, so she picked it up and said in a bright voice, "Saxon's Folly Estate and Wines," and then started to note down a booking for a tour group that wanted to do a wine tasting.
Megan's call ended. Clearly she wanted to talk. But Amy didn't. She gave Megan a quick smile, before huddling down behind the counter and starting to describe the various packages available for tour groups. When the call ended she looked up.
To her relief Megan had gone.
"I'm worried about Amy."
Heath stilled in the act of counting wine bottles shelved in order of vintage in the wine-master's cellar. A bottle of every wine the winery had produced since it was started by Spanish monks almost a century ago was stored there. At the sound of Megan's voice he stared fixedly at the cursive gold print on the label of the bottle in front of him.
Finally Heath turned his head and met his sister's direct gaze. "We're all concerned."
"Roland's death has been hard on all of us." Megan gave a sniff, belying her composure.
"At least we've got each other to share the grief with," Heath said. "You, me and Joshua have always been close."
"Exactly! But Amy's so alone, it breaks my heart. She pretends she's fine. But she's so fragile," said Megan, coming in and...
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