He kisses my forehead and it’s unexpected because it feels affectionate—not at all like the arranged relationship we’re entering into. “I’ll be here to pick you up at ten o’clock.”
“There’s no pressure, but my schedule is clear through Thursday evening. I’d really like for you to stay a few days with me at the vineyard. I’m eager to get our stranger anxiety behind us so we can move on to the fun stuff.”
“I haven’t said yes.” That’s me playing hard to get.
He pulls me close and whispers against my ear. “But you will.”
He is one cocky son of a bitch. But an accurate one. Still, I’m not ready to let him in on that little secret. I want him to work for it a little longer. “I’ll think about it.”
“And I’ll think of you until tomorrow.” He kisses my forehead again and I watch him walk to his car.
This beautiful man has a dark side that draws me in, yet makes me want to run. I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life, and I wonder how I’ve allowed myself to be pulled in.
When I walk into the apartment, Ben is nowhere in sight. I guess he’s in his bedroom avoiding me, which is fine. I refuse to feel guilty about having a relationship with someone else. I never led him to believe there was anything between us.
I go into the bedroom and Addison isn’t home, so I check my phone. She’s sent a text to let me know she’s staying at Zac’s. Good. I hope she stays all night this time.
After enjoying a very pleasant evening with Miss Beckett, I’m in bed no more than an hour when I get a call from my right-hand man at the Chalice Vineyard. I immediately sit up, knowing something serious has happened if he’s calling me at this hour. “Clyde, what’s happened?”
“I’m sorry to wake you at this hour, Jack, but there’s been a fire at Chalice tonight. It’s under control now, but there’s damage on the south side.”
Chalice is my favorite vineyard. My father owned it when I was growing up and I spent a lot of time there as a child with its workers, who are now my employees. As such, they are almost family—their safety is priority. “Was anyone injured?”
Thank God no one is hurt. “Have you been able to assess the damage?”
“It’s hard to tell because it’s still dark, but it appears to be minimal. We were lucky to catch it when we did. John was awake and saw the blaze from his bedroom window.” It helps that the vines are still green and there’s moisture from a rain we had a couple of days ago. At least we had that in our favor.
“Can you tell how it started?”
“The fire chief will be back to inspect it in the morning, but he told me he has reason to believe it was arson. He said he should be able to give us a definite answer tomorrow.”
I call Daniel to let him know I will be leaving for Sydney within the hour.
I don’t have Paige’s number, but I’ll need to let her know of the change in plans. I go into my library and take out the phone I’ve already chosen to give her. I write a quick note and insert it inside the package.
My next call is to my personal assistant, Jonathan. “It’s Jack. I’m sorry to call at this hour, but I have a job for you that must be done first thing in the morning. When you come into my office, you’ll find a small brown box on my desk. I need you to deliver it to the recipient by eight in the morning and not a minute later. It’s personal and very important to me.”
“Of course, sir. No later than eight.”
There’s little to no traffic on the road so I drive my black Fisker Karma coupe convertible faster than I should as I race toward Chalice. The businessman in me should use the drive to think about how I plan to handle the problem at Chalice, but I have something else on my mind. This something else has long brown hair, big golden-brown eyes, and a body that makes me hard just thinking about it.
I wake the next morning to an arm smacking me across my face. Ugh! She’s back again. My vacation from getting smacked around in my sleep is short-lived. I give her a stout shove. “Knock that shit off, Addison.”
She grunts and flops away from me. Good. I’m safest when she’s facing away from me.
I hear a loud knock on my bedroom door and Ben’s irritated voice on the other side. “You have another delivery from him.”
Addison’s eyes pop open. She stretches like a cat and moans like a porn star. “Another delivery? Maybe he sent breakfast again. I’m starving.”
I look at the clock and see that it isn’t quite eight o’clock. It was late when he brought me home last night, so how has he managed to have something delivered to me this early?
I put on my bra because I won’t go free-boobin’ in front of Ben. My robe provides added protection over the pajamas before I investigate what my three-month fling has sent me.
A small brown package is on the table. I use the scissors to cut into it. Inside I find a new iPhone with a personalized card:
I have an emergency at one of the vineyards. I’ll be gone most of the day so I’m forced to cancel our plans for today. This phone is your direct line to me—my number is already programmed in. I’ll call you later when the situation is under control and we’ll make plans for a rain check soon. —Lachlan
I’m surprised by the disappointment I feel. “Lachlan has a problem at work, so it seems I’m free for the day.”
“Great. Zac and Ben are tied up with some kind of project, so I think we should have a girls’ day out and go shopping.”
I don’t have money for shopping, so I guess I’m browsing. “That sounds like a great idea.”
Addison picks up the new iPhone. “Why did he send you another phone? Doesn’t he know you already have one?”
The iPhone isn’t a gift. It’s a booty-call device—his means of communicating with me about hooking up while he holds all the control. This is one way he remains untraceable. He’d never give me his real number, so I predict he has one just like this designated only for my calls. That’s what he means when he says it is my direct line to him.
It’s also a reminder that this relationship isn’t romantic and won’t ever be. It is arranged and temporary. I’d do well to not forget that any time soon.
“My phone’s been acting up since we got here. It won’t hold a charge so I guess he thought I needed a new one.” I lie to my best friend because I can’t bring myself to confess the terms of Lachlan’s arrangement. She’ll think he’s bat-shit crazy. And that I am, too, for agreeing to it.
I turn the five-hour drive to Chalice into a little more than four. When I arrive, I see Clyde standing outside the office building, waiting for me. “Jack, it’s been too long. I’m glad to have you here, but I’d be happier if it wasn’t under these circumstances.”
Clyde began working for my father at Chalice before I was born and now he works for me. I’ve known him my entire life, so I trust him. “I’m sorry I had to drag you out of bed in the middle of the night for this.”
“It goes with the territory, Clyde. The good, the bad, and the ugly. This just happens to be a dose of the bad and ugly at the same time.”
“The fire chief said he would be here at nine, so I expect him any minute.”
I’m anxious to see the burned area. “Can we go out to survey the damage?”
“Not until he’s finished inspecting it in the daylight. There were a lot of people working to put out the fire, so he doesn’t want any further contamination of the scene.”
That seems reasonable. I check my watch and see it is a quarter to nine. Paige has gotten my package by now and I have a few minutes before the fire inspector will arrive, so I try out our new means of communication.
I take out the phone meant only for Paige’s calls and dial her number. She must have had the phone in her hand because she answers on the first ring. “Good mornin’, Mr. Henry.”
“Are you wondering how I knew it was you?” I could hear the amusement in her voice.
“Could it possibly be because I’m the person who sent you the phone and I’m the only person with the number? Or because my name came up on the caller ID?”
She laughs. “None of the above.”
“No, huh?” Though I’d been in a hurry before leaving this morning, I had taken the time to program a personalized ringtone. “Maybe it was the ‘Talk Dirty to Me’ ringtone.”
“That’s the more likely reason.”
“Very much so. You deserve extra points for that.”
So, she’s keeping score? “I was unaware of the extra point system. What does a personalized ringtone earn me, Miss Beckett?”
“I haven’t chosen a reward system yet, but I’ll let you know once I decide.”
She has another decision I am way more interested in than a points-and-reward system. “Please do. I might want to work harder on earning extra points if the reward is worth the work.”
“My prize is always worth the effort, Mr. Henry. Have you solved your problem at the vineyard yet?”
“Yes and no. There was a fire last night so the imminent danger is over, but I’m waiting for the fire inspector to come out so he can tell us what happened. I’ll be tied up with this mess most of the day. Since it’s a four- to five-hour drive, I won’t be back until late. I was hoping to get a rain check on our plans, possibly tomorrow?”
“Hmm, I’ll have to check my social calendar. It seems to be pretty full at the moment.” She hesitates. “Looks like I can work you in.”
I wonder if I’ll ever get used to her playfulness. “Same plan? Pick you up at ten?”