The urge to vomit becomes more and more pressing. I try to suppress my body’s demand, but my stomach betrays me and wins the battle. I dash from the bed to the bathroom and make it to the toilet right before I spew. I try to keep the noise to a minimum, as if subdued heaving is a possibility.

I hear a light tap at the bathroom door. Shit. I didn’t lock it in my haste to reach the toilet. “Don’t come in here.”

The door opens and Lachlan enters in spite of my warning. I reach up and flush the toilet because I’m uncomfortable with him seeing any of my body’s previous contents. There are some pretenses I wish to maintain. “Trust me, you don’t want to see this.”

“I’ve seen people chunder before.” Maybe so, but he’s never seen me throw up.

He wets a washcloth with cold water and places it on the back of my neck. He takes my hair into his large hands and secures it with a clip. I don’t even want to know how he learned to do that. “Thank you.”

I’m embarrassed for him to see me this way. “I’m sorry you’re seeing me worship the porcelain god. I know how attractive this must be, but in my defense, I told you to not come in here.”

He’s rubbing my shoulders to comfort me. “I’ll survive seeing you chunder. Think you’re finished for now?”

This has been happening to me for a while and I know the routine. Once I vomit, I’m fine. “I’m better now.”

Lachlan helps me back to bed. “Do you think you ate something bad?”

“No. This happens to me out of the clear blue sometimes. I get a headache during the night and when I wake up, the pain is so bad, it makes me throw up. It’s weird because once I vomit, I’m fine. The pain goes away and so does the nausea.”

“Have you told your doctor about this?”

“Yeah. I’ve had scans and everything seems normal. My doctor diagnosed me with migraines.”

He examines my face like he’s not so sure. “I think you should lie down and rest.”

I walk to the sink so I can brush my teeth and I argue with his reflection in the mirror. “I’m okay, Lachlan. It was a migraine and now it’s over. Promise.”

He lets me finish brushing my teeth before he objects to what I’m saying. “I have to go out and check the grafts today. I want you to lie down while I’m out.”

There’s nothing wrong with me, but this is what he wants, so I agree to do it. “I’ll lie down while you’re gone, but let the record show I’m only doing it to make you happy, not because there’s anything wrong with me.”

He watches me in the mirror as he kisses my cheek. “Thank you.”

It’s ridiculous to go to bed when there’s nothing wrong with me, but I do it because he asks me to. I hear the shower cut on and consider getting up to step inside with him, but I know that won’t go over well.

Why am I so eager to please this man?

When he finishes getting ready, he comes out of the bathroom and sits next to me on the bed. He strokes his fingers over my forehead and pushes my hair away from my face. He takes my phone from the nightstand and puts it on the bed for easy accessibility. “I’ll be gone a couple of hours, but I’ll have my phone with me if you need anything. Don’t hesitate to call.” He leans down and kisses my forehead. “Feel better.”

I could argue that nothing is wrong with me, but I don’t. “Sure thing, boss.”

When he’s gone, I reach for my phone and scroll through the pictures we took last night. He has the seminudes on his phone. I have the sweet ones where he’s kissing my face, my mouth, and my neck. I come across one where he’s looking at me like he adores me. He makes it so easy to forget about our agreement, but then I remember that there’s a very logical reason for why. He’s good at this game because he’s played it before. On twelve prior occasions to be exact.

I put the phone down and close my eyes. When I open them again, Lachlan is sitting on the bed next to me. I lift my head to see the clock. Shit, it’s almost ten o’clock—I must’ve dozed off.

He passes a glass of orange juice to me. “Are you feeling better?”

He’s so thoughtful. I sit up and take a drink. “Yes. Can I get out of bed now, Dr. Henry?”

“I suppose you may, but I happen to like you in my bed.”

“I like it too, but it’s no fun in here without you.”

He grins and kisses the top of my head. “Let me prepare you some breakfast. Would you care for a bagel with cream cheese or some cream cheese on a bagel?”

“Hmm … I think I’ll take the bagel with cream cheese.”

“Good choice. Come into the kitchen after you get ready and I’ll have it in the toaster waiting for you.”

I didn’t ask Lachlan what we were doing today, so I shower and then dress in denim shorts, a tank, and flip-flops.

I go into the kitchen and as promised, there’s a bagel in the toaster. Lachlan sees me walk into the kitchen and pops it down.

“Now, that’s what I call service.” I walk over to where he’s standing and put my arms around his waist. “Am I dressed okay?”

He slips his arms around my waist and squeezes me. “I’m going to be busy the next few days. I thought we might hang out here and take it easy. Do you mind?”

“No. Not at all.” But I know why he doesn’t want to get out and about. He’s concerned about what happened morning. About me. I’m fine, but I don’t think I’ll convince him of that. It’s really too bad I’ll be forced to lie around with him all day. Not.

I sit on the edge of the bed and look at Laurelyn lying on her stomach. I don’t want to wake her, but I won’t leave without saying goodbye.

I lean over and kiss the bare skin on her back and she stirs. I do it again and she makes a seductive moaning sound. It makes my dick twitch, but I don’t have time to satisfy his needs this morning. I have to get on the road.

She rolls over and smiles. “Don’t go. Stay with me.”

“I would if I had a choice, but I’d like to keep my job, so I have to go.”

“Give me one minute.” She hops up and I hear the water running in the bathroom. I’m sure she’s brushing her teeth so she can give me a goodbye kiss I won’t forget anytime soon.

She comes out, still naked, and pushes me back against the bed until I’m sitting. She climbs up and straddles me. She must love doing that. I know I do. “At least kiss me before you go.”

Her lips touch mine and I know this isn’t good for my dick. How am I going to get out of here without rolling her onto her back and burying myself in her?

I keep it short, but not because it’s what I want. “Baby, I have to go.”

“I know. Call me when you can.”

I give her one last peck on the mouth. “I will. Daniel will be here around ten, but stay as long as you like.”

I get in my car and start my drive to Lovedale so I can take care of the problems at Marguerite Vineyard. While I’m there, I have other business I need to tend. It’s personal, and its name is Audrey Bagshaw.

I use voice command to call the one person I can trust with this issue. “Call Jim Callaghan.”

There are several rings before he answers. “Callaghan Investigations.”

“Jim, Jack McLachlan here.” We politely greet each other, but we both know I’m not calling about his well-being, so I cut the shit. “I have a job for you. I understand it’s short notice, but I need you to find someone for me fast.”

“Of course, Mr. McLachlan. You know I’m always glad to help you in any way I can.”

He means he is always willing to be paid a generous sum, but I don’t mind his motive. He gets the fast results I like and always keeps the work he does for me on the down-low. “Perfect. Her name is Audrey Bagshaw and she lives in Lovedale. That’s where I’ll be for the next three days and I want to see her while I’m in town. There’s an extra thousand in it for you if you can have her located for me by tonight.”

I fill him in on the information I have and he gives me reassurance that I will be reunited with companion number three within the next twelve hours if he finds her still living in Lovedale.

It’s late afternoon when I arrive at Marguerite, and everything appears to be business as usual, but I know this isn’t the case at all. There is evil fuckery afoot here.

First, there was the attempt to burn the crops at Chalice and now someone has poisoned a section of Marguerite. The damage at both vineyards has been minimal, but the intent behind the act is what disturbs me. Is someone trying to ruin me or draw me away from Avalon?

My head man, Alfredo, greets me in the drive. He’s a plump, round Italian with a talent for the vine that only rivals that of my father.

As we drive out to the area where the crop is stunted and crinkled, Alfredo briefs me on the problems. He stops the ATV in front of an injured vine and walks toward it. He takes the leaves in his hand. “I tell you, it’s glyphosate poisoning, Mr. McLachlan.”

I don’t have to inspect any further because he’s correct. I’ve seen it before. “You’re right, Alfredo.”

“We don’t use glyphosate here. This was brought in and done on purpose.”

“I don’t know who would do it, Mr. McLachlan. None of the help has a grievance with you.”

He appears nervous, as though I might blame him since he is overseer of the vineyard, but I know he’s not responsible. “This wasn’t your fault, Alfredo. It’s sabotage, but I don’t think it’s by anyone at Marguerite. There’s another party involved and I intend on finding out who it is and what they hope to accomplish.”