He drives me around so we can inspect the damaged vines. It’s a much larger area than I expected and I wonder if there’s damage we don’t see yet. By no means is it a ruined crop, but this is a serious attempt at ruining my livelihood. With this second sabotage, I’ll be forced to put the other vineyards on alert. I’ll need additional staff to watch and patrol all of them until harvest time. The extra staff through March will be a huge expense. The responsible party might not have accomplished what they set out to do, but they achieved plenty by targeting my pockets.
When I finish inspecting the fields, Alfredo takes me back to the house. It feels lonely. I don’t have Daniel or Mrs. Porcelli with me this trip since I’m only staying a few days, but that’s not who I’m missing. I’ve already become accustomed to having Laurelyn with me.
I couldn’t ask her to come since I’m planning a visit with Audrey. Despite the terms regarding our relationship, I wouldn’t expect her to respond well to being left at the house alone while I’m with a previous companion.
I haven’t been to the Marguerite vineyard in months, so the house has been vacant and I find the kitchen empty. I don’t see a point in a trip to the market since I don’t have Mrs. Porcelli here to cook, so I’m reduced to eating out alone, which I despise.
Lovedale restaurants aren’t formal, but I decide to change for dinner. All I find in the closet are trousers and dress shirts. No jeans or T-shirts. That’s the problem with not having a permanent home. I never know what I need where.
I go to my favorite restaurant in Lovedale and I’m escorted toward the back of the restaurant. I’m seated at one of the tables I’ve shared with Audrey many times during our month-long relationship over three years ago. I’m scanning the wine selection when my phone rings. It’s Jim. Perfect. I hope he has good news for me.
“Mr. McLachlan, I’m calling you with some good news. It appears that Miss Bagshaw is still living in Lovedale. I have her current address and phone number. Would you like me to email those to you?”
“Email the address but call off her number to me now.”
“Great work. You’ll have your money, along with the extra thousand, in your account tonight.”
“Thank you, Mr. McLachlan. As always, it’s been a pleasure doing business with you.”
I immediately dial Audrey’s number and it goes to voicemail. I was Drake Connelly to her three years ago, but she discovered my true identity so there’s no reason in pretending to be anyone but myself. “Audrey, it’s Jack McLachlan. I need to see you as soon as possible. Please, call me at this number.”
I order a merlot and the lasagna and I’m finishing when my phone rings. I see Audrey’s number and I’m happy she has returned my call so soon. Maybe she’ll agree to meet me tonight. “Hello, Audrey.”
“Hello, Jack. Long time, no see. How have you been?”
“I’ve been better, but I think you know that already.”
“I want to see you.”
“Oh, so now you want to see me. Am I supposed to come running because the great and all-mighty Jack McLachlan has changed his mind?”
I tell her huskily, “Don’t be that way, Audrey.”
She hesitates but we both already know she’ll agree. “Okay. Where do you want to meet?”
I’m not far from the hotel, but I want to finish dinner. I’m not that anxious to see her. “An hour.”
After I end the call, I flag my server. “I’ll need another merlot.” And then probably another for what I’m about to do.
Three glasses of wine later, I check into the Hotel Armand and text Audrey with the room number. I’m there less than ten minutes when I hear her knock on the door.
I open the door and she’s wearing a black trench coat with extremely high heels. She has traded her long, fiery hair for a medium-length cut with blunt bangs. I hate it.
She grazes her finger across my chest as she walks through the door.
“Please, have a seat.” I walk over to the wet bar. “Would you care for a drink? A bourbon, perhaps? Seems like I recall that being your favorite.”
I pour her drink and then take it to her where she is sitting on the bed. She holds it up to me. “A toast?”
I sit next to her and tip the edge of my glass to hers. “To reunions.”
We sip the bourbon and then she gets up and places her glass on the table. She unties the waist of her coat and opens it to reveal her naked body underneath. She walks over and stands between my knees. “I’ve missed you so much, Jack.”
She leans forward to kiss me and I stop her by placing a finger over her lips. “I didn’t ask you here for that.”
She tries to climb onto the bed to straddle me and I catch her by her waist. “I can change your mind, Jack. You know I can.”
She drops to her knees in front of me and reaches for my belt buckle. “You know what I can do for you and you love it. I know you remember how much you love being in my mouth.”
I try to push her hand away, but her grip is like steel. “No, Audrey. There’s someone else.”
She immediately stops, but her grip doesn’t loosen. She’s angry. I see it in her eyes. “There will never be anyone else for you but me. I’m the only one who knows you, Jack.” She puts emphasis on my name as she says it.
“You might know who I am, but you’ll never be the one for me.”
“This new woman doesn’t know your name. She’s just another no one to you. You don’t owe her monogamy.” Again, she’s fumbling with my belt. “I’m right, aren’t I? She’s no one special. Just another one of your fake relationships.”
I’ve had more than enough of this and there’s only one way to make her stop this nonsense. “Quit, Audrey.” I lean forward until we’re eye to eye. She thinks I’m going to kiss her, but she’s dead wrong. “I know you started the fire at Chalice. I also know you poisoned Marguerite and I’m here to give you the courtesy of a warning. Don’t fuck with me, Audrey.”
She sits back on her heels. “Jack …”
“I don’t want to hear it. I came here to let you know I’m on to you. Now I’ve done that, so put your coat back on and get the fuck out of my sight. I never want to see you again.”
She grabs her coat from the floor and cinches the belt. “You’re going to regret what you’ve done to me.”
After I leave the hotel and I’m closed up in my car with her scent, the only thing I can smell is that damn sweet, floral fragrance. It’s on my skin and clothes and I despise it. I can’t believe I ever thought it was pleasant, let alone appealing. It’s nauseating and I want it gone. Now.
As soon as I’m back at the vineyard, I forgo calling Laurelyn and head straight to the shower. I have to wash away the last bit of physical contact I hope to ever have with that crazy bitch.
I hear Laurelyn’s ringtone, “Crash Into Me”, as I stand in the shower scrubbing my skin, but she’ll have to wait until I erase the last evidence of Audrey’s touch from my body.
I listen to Laurelyn’s voicemail as soon as I’m out, not even waiting until I’m dressed. “Hey, caveman. I just wanted to tell you something before I went to bed. Call me back when you get a chance.”
I walk toward the bedroom wearing only a towel and call her immediately. I don’t want to wait another minute to hear her voice. “Hello.”
The tone in her voice elevates. “Hey, you. I’m glad you called. Normally, I’m not all that excited about this and needing to share it with anyone, but you wanted to know, so I’m calling to tell you I got my period.”
Hmm. I’d forgotten about it, so I guess I wasn’t as worried as I thought. “That’s good to know.”
“I thought you’d like that. Have you been very busy today?”
What’s kept me busy while I’ve been here disgusts me. “I’ve been busier than I wanted to be, but I’ve still thought of you.”
“That’s a sweet thing to say. Everything okay at the vineyard?”
I fully expect it to be now that I’ve told Audrey I’m onto her little game. “There are some definite issues at Marguerite, but I think I’ll have them under control soon.”
“So, they just needed the big man to come along and take care of things. Show them how it’s done, right?”
Yes, the big man is on campus. She has no idea how big the big man really is. “You’ve got it, babe.”
“Will you still be staying until New Year’s Day?”
I don’t want to, but it’s necessary. I wish I could be back to celebrate with Laurelyn. “I’m afraid I have to. Will you be making plans with Addison for New Year’s Eve?”
“She’s going to The Blues Club with Zac and they’ve invited me to go. It’s open mic night again.”
I’m certain that means Ben Donavon is going too and will probably consider Laurelyn his date, but I don’t ask because I don’t want the confirmation.
“You’ll have a great time. I wish I could be there to hear you sing.”
“Well, that’s hardly fair. I won’t be there to hear it.”