Surely, he considered this possibility. He must’ve known Mrs. Porcelli would say his name in front of me at some point since I’m staying here full-time.

I decide I won’t mention the discovery of my newfound information about Mr. McLachlan. Learning his last name changes nothing for us. I won’t try to find him once I leave Australia. There’s no reason to worry him, so let him continue to believe he still holds this secret from me.

Spending the day with Laurelyn stretched out on a lounge chair by the pool is a perfect way to spend New Year’s Day. The view is mighty fine with her barely there black bikini, but I worry her skin isn’t prepared for the harsh Australian sun.

“You should put on sunscreen so you don’t sunbake too much.”

She rises on her elbows and peers over her sunnies at me. “I thought I might get a little sun before I put it on.”

“I guess you would know better than I do.”

She sits up and grabs the bottle of SPF 70 from the table and begins to massage it into her skin. “This is a new one for me. I’ve never been swimming on New Year’s Day.”

“I guess lots of things seem backwards to you.”

I can’t see her eyes through her sunnies, but she smiles and I wonder what she’s thinking. “Yeah, a few things.” She holds the bottle out in my direction. “Would you do my back for me?”

I cover her in a generous application. When I finish, I return to thumbing through the summer issue of the Winery and Vineyard Journal. I find the article I wrote on vine grafting and I’m in the middle of it when Laurelyn asks, “Whatcha reading?”

“So, you’re working even when you’re not working.”

I’m sure it appears that way to her. “I guess so.”

I place the magazine on the table and she reaches for it. “Maybe I should read this so I can understand more about what you do.”

“Not really, but you interest me.”

She thumbs through the magazine and I see her stop on my article. I panic as I pray she doesn’t recognize me in the photograph. “I’m getting into the pool. Why don’t you join me? You can read all the exciting articles on winemaking later.”

“Vine grafting.” She glances at me. “Is this the same process you’re doing here at Avalon?”

I get up to take the journal and place it on the table. “It is, and you can read all about the thrilling adventures in grafting later. It’s hot. Come into the pool with me to cool off.”

She has no idea how close she is to figuring me out, so I tug on her hands. “Come on.”

She shakes her head and gets up from the lounger. “You always get your way, don’t you?”

Laurelyn follows me into the pool. She takes her hair out of the bun and tosses the elastic band to the sidewalk before she dips her head backwards. She lifts her head out of the pool and pushes the water away from her face.

She’s a magnet and I’m metal. I can’t resist the pull between us so I move closer and put my hands around her waist. She puts her arms around my shoulders and wraps her legs around me, but not in a sexual way. She’s being playful.

“So, Mrs. Porcelli and Daniel travel with you when you’re stationed at different vineyards?”

Stationed. That’s a good word to describe the way I travel with work. “They come with me anytime I stay more than a week, and I try to give them several days to be home with their families before we leave again.”

“What do you think Mrs. Porcelli thinks of you never bringing a woman home?”

I laugh as I picture Laurelyn prancing into the kitchen in nothing but her panties and my T-shirt. “She probably thought I was gay until you showed up in the kitchen barely wearing enough to cover this.” I glide my hands over the bottom of her bikini.

“It’s not funny, Lachlan.” She pretends to be mad but can’t quite pull it off—not with the underlying grin trying to break through.

“I’m very sorry you were embarrassed, but I did tell you she would be here today.”

“I know, but it slipped my mind because it’s only been the two of us in the house since my first night with you.”

I like the full-time privacy when we’re the only ones here. Perhaps I should give Daniel and Mrs. Porcelli some additional vacation during our stay at Avalon.

I haven’t explained my employees’ routines to Laurelyn. “None of the staff is in the house before eight or after five unless asked to be.”

“Oh. They don’t sleep in the house?”

“No, they have their own quarters in the guest house. They need their privacy as well.”

I see the relief on her face. “Of course they do.”

Mrs. Porcelli comes out of the house carrying a serving tray with two plates. “I thought you might be hungry, so I brought some sangers and fruit.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Porcelli. We’ll have lunch at the patio table.” She leaves the food and returns inside the house. “Are you hungry?”

Laurelyn winks at me. “I had a late breakfast, but I could eat again.”

“You always have brekkie late, sleepyhead.” She retaliates by splashing water in my face. I lift my hand and make a production of wiping the water from my eyes. Laurelyn lets go of me and begins backing away because she knows what’s coming. “Oh, you asked for this. There’s no backing out now.”

I catch her by the arm and pull her to me. I lock my arms around hers, holding them by her side as I prepare to dunk her.

“Please, don’t,” she screams and I hear hysteria in her voice.

I release my grip so I’m able to turn her around. I’m shocked by the pure terror I see in her eyes. “What’s wrong, Laurelyn?”

She drops her face. “Nothing.” She pushes away, so I let her go. She gets out of the pool and wraps a towel around her body before sitting at the table where lunch is waiting.

I get out to join her, but I’m not sure if I’m welcome. Her eyes continue to avoid mine and it’s because something isn’t right with her. “Lunch looks good.”

I begin to eat while she ignores the food on her plate. “Mrs. P. will think you don’t like her food if you don’t eat something.” This isn’t my happy, carefree Laurelyn in front of me. This one is guarded and withdrawn. I want the other one back. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

She has a distant look on her face and I wonder where her mind has taken her. It certainly isn’t here with me. “My mom was an addict when I was a kid. She was addicted to prescription drugs—painkillers, sedatives, whatever she could get her hands on. When I was eight, I found her passed out and submerged in the bathtub. I tried to pull her out, but she was too heavy. Every time I’d get her face above the water, she’d take a breath and then slip from my grasp. She pulled me into the tub under her and I was drowning. I still remember what it felt like to be held under that water knowing I was about to die.”

“How did you not drown?”

“I had pulled the plug in the drain as soon as I found her. It took a while, but the water drained low enough for me to breathe.”

“Almost killing both of us was her wake-up call. She got clean and has been for almost fifteen years.” I would hope so if her addiction almost killed her and her eight-year-old daughter.

She’s watching my face. “I’ve never told anyone that.”

How could she not tell anyone? “What do you mean?”

“It’s been our secret all of these years. You’re the only person who knows.”

“Both of you almost died. That’s not the kind of thing you keep secret.”

She pulls the towel tighter around her shoulders. “I learned to keep secrets at a very early age, Lachlan. I would’ve been taken away from her if I had told.”

“Maybe you should have been taken from her.”

“We survived and she went to rehab that night. I stayed with my grandparents while she got clean and I was there for her when she came home.”

She was only a child. Her mother should’ve been the one there for her, not the other way around. No one protected her and she was robbed of her childhood. She says she learned to keep secrets at a very early age, so I have to wonder what else she’s hiding.

I see the look in Lachlan’s eyes and I know what he’s thinking—my mother is sorry and lowdown. And there have been times when she has been; she isn’t perfect. If I’m honest, she has been a shitty mother, but she’s the only parent I have. At least she’s been there—that’s more than I can say for the sperm donor.

Maybe I should regret telling him this secret I’ve kept for fifteen years, but I don’t. I feel a burden lift from my heart and soul. Only one word describes what I’m experiencing: peace.

Lachlan’s squatting in front of me, his hands on my knees. I slide to the edge of my seat and he wraps his arms around me. It’s in this moment that I realize something—I can tell Lachlan anything. There is no pretense of perfection between us. I don’t need him to believe I have it all together when I don’t. “That felt so damn good.”

I’m almost giddy by my epiphany. “Telling you what happened with my mom and finally admitting what a shitty job she did as a parent before she got clean. I had no idea how great it would feel to finally tell someone.”

“I think that’s why therapy is so highly recommended.”

There he goes with the medical advice again. “Yes, Dr. Henry. I believe you could be right on this account.”

“I’m always right on every account.”