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Authors: Heather Heyford

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BOOK: A Taste of Sauvignon
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Chapter 4
E
steban's lavender plants didn't look so good. He propped his hands on his hips, glaring down at where the experimental seedlings struggled to hold up their heads in the soupy soil. The valley floor was still saturated from a series of early spring rainstorms ferried inland by the Pineapple Express. Winegrapes didn't care—they went dormant in the winter—but lavender was a whole other animal.
That wasn't the only thing eating him. Ball-busting as farm chores might be, they left his mind free to wander. All day long, he hadn't been able to get Sauvignon St. Pierre out of his head.
While patching the hole in the chicken wire, he relived the entire incident down on Dry Creek Road.
Shoveling compost onto the strawberry patch, he thought of her delicately crossed ankles as she sat his rustic kitchen chair. He'd never be able to sit on that chair again without that image coming to mind.
Then, this afternoon, setting cabbages with Padre had brought back the memory of her chocolate-brown eyes. Those dark-framed glasses she sported were a crime against nature. He imagined peeling them off her face, followed by the pins that held back her hair. . . .
Why not go whole hog? I still have two dozen cabbages to set out
. Slowly unzipping her dress . . .
The sound of a car coming up the lane interrupted his fantasy.
The black Mercedes! She was back!
Padre heard it too. Esteban had filled him in on the events of the morning when he'd returned from breakfast with his
amigos
. At Esteban's mention of the killer's name, his father's eyes had grown leery. But his concern had quickly faded. Say what you will about the girls next door being spoiled heiresses, they all had jobs. The sight of their matching Mercedes on their way to work was a daily occurrence. Madre had got the lowdown firsthand, from Jeanne. Sauvignon was a lawyer, Chardonnay ran some kind of kids' charity, and Merlot made jewelry. (
¡Mierda!
To have to go through life with those names! There wasn't enough money in the world to make up for that.)
Like Padre always said, accidents happened all the time on farms. Besides, the chickens were Madre's business. Padre was in charge of the truck gardens. All in all, he didn't seem too concerned.
The nearer the Mercedes got, the harder Esteban's heart thudded. Through the budding branches of a magnolia tree, he watched as her car stopped directly in front of the house. A shapely leg emerged from the driver's seat. Flowers
. Sí.
That explained it.
“An ‘I'm sorry' present for Madre,” he said to his father. Padre grunted and went back to work. Esteban followed suit, so Padre wouldn't notice his pulse pounding as if he'd just come up from an extended free dive off the coast of Salt Point.
All Esteban could do was steal an occasional glimpse house-ward while his imagination ran unchecked over what was going on inside those four walls. Señorita Sauvignon had been in there way too long merely to hand over some flowers. Madre had probably offered her some more tea, and was now talking her ear off again.
“Esteban!” He jumped when he heard Madre call.
Padre's back slowly straightened from over his hoe, but Esteban didn't dare meet his eyes, to give away the eagerness he felt emblazoned all over his face.
“Come here!”
As he made his way to the house, Esteban glanced at his filthy hands and his dirt-spattered jeans. He resisted the impulse to run a hand through his matted shock of hair when he realized that would only make it worse.
Mierda.
He wished now that that girl had never returned. Everything about her, from her fine-boned figure to her fancy East Coast accent, made him feel coarse and uncivilized. Come to think of it, he could never risk bedding her. His heavy body would crush her like a grape.
Madre met him at the open door, eyes filled with concern. “Señorita Sauvignon brought some papers. I told her you would look at them.”
Cozy as ever in his chair, Sauvignon smiled up at him. He nodded a terse greeting and went over to the big farmhouse sink to scrub the soil off his hands the best he could before accepting her handshake. Her pale skin felt smooth and soft as a baby's in his rough brown one, but her grip was that of a confident businesswoman.
“Tell my son what you told me,” his mother ordered.
Today had started out like any other day until
she
had come along, turning everything upside down. On her first visit, Sauvignon had been focused entirely on Madre. She'd all but ignored Esteban, making it easy for him to stand back and observe. Now her attention was zeroed in on him. The electricity flowing from her body through his made it damn near impossible to follow the message she delivered.
She sat erect as a garden stake, elbows anchored on the table, creamed and polished hands fluttering like butterflies to make her points.
The sight of her moving lips mesmerized him. The sound of her voice obscured the meaning of her words. He eyed the closed folder before her, wishing she would have mercy on him and just shut up, be still, and let him read whatever was in it for himself.
To make matters worse, Madre's anxious eyes were glued to his face, as he filled his role as family representative.
“Do you understand?” Sauvignon peered directly at him through her glasses.
His silence must make him seem like a total bonehead. Somehow, he'd managed to ferret out the key facts. “There's been a mistake. Our place isn't for sale.”
She wasn't fazed a bit. “I understand. You aren't actively seeking a buyer. Be that as it may, an offer has been made. A very attractive one. Let me show you what other, comparable properties have gone for in the past year.” Scooting her chair closer to his, she opened the folder and pulled out some papers. He leaned in to read the fine print, following along as she pointed out the other transactions. She smelled like roses. When she finished, she and Madre looked at him and waited.
He sat back and studied her. She wasn't short by any means, but at his six-foot-five, he could eat soup off her head. He folded his arms across his chest. “This farm is my father's lifeblood. He would never sell it.”
The ball was back in Sauvignon's court. Madre's head turned to her.
“Do you think I could talk to him?”
Madre waited expectantly for Esteban's response.
“He doesn't speak English.”
“Esteban speaks for him,” interjected Madre.
“I see.”
He watched her mull that over.
“What if I had the documents translated?”
Esteban's breath stopped. There was an awkward pause as he waited to hear if Madre would confess to Padre's number-one shortcoming.
The pause lengthened, until Madre finally admitted, “Geraldo doesn't read.”
There it was, the humiliating truth. There was nothing he could do about it.
Sauvignon thought about that for a few seconds, then switched gears. “Mrs. Morales, according to these records, you've lived here for quite a while.”
Madre nodded. “A long time. Geraldo's
tío
Esteban—” She halted, looking at her son for help.
“Uncle,” translated Esteban.
Madre nodded. “Geraldo's uncle Esteban had a Christmas tree farm here. He was a smart man. Like a second father to Geraldo.” She smiled fondly at the memory. “That's why we named our son for him. We moved in with him here when little Esteban was six years old. Left our parents, brothers, sisters, and all our friends, to give our son a better life in America. When
Tío
died, he gave us the house.”
“If you don't mind my asking, do you own the property free and clear?”
She wanted to know if it was mortgaged, Esteban knew.

Sí,
yes,” Madre replied, lighting up as if she'd heard that term before. “Free and clear.”
Sauvignon leaned into Madre, staring at her unblinking through her thick lenses. “Mrs. Morales, do you understand how much money a million and a half dollars is? You could buy a beautiful new home, almost anywhere you please. Have the lifestyle you've always dreamed of.”
Madre shrugged. “But I already have my house. We like it here.”
Savvy sat back and thought some more. “What are your plans for the future?”
His parents were in their late fifties yet looked older, thanks to a lifetime working outside in all kinds of weather.
Madre raised her eyebrows. “We'll just grow old, right here.” She tapped her thick fingers lightly on the table where her work-worn hand rested.
Hard as they hung on to the old ways, his parents lived squarely in the present. They didn't dwell in the past or fret too much about the future.
Madre smiled politely, while Esteban's satisfied expression said,
See? You're screwed. Now, get out of my chair and go back to your big white mansion and leave us alone.
Sauvignon looked calmly from mother to son, but he sensed her brainstorming behind those ugly glasses. She arose from her—
his
—chair and crossed the floor to the window above the sink full of freshly washed spinach. His eyes became lasers, burning every detail of her lanky body into his memory. She wasn't perfect. Could use a few pounds, for his taste. With a graceful hand, she eased back the ruffled curtain to peer out into the garden where Padre toiled.
“You must be very proud of Mr. Morales. He's a hard worker, isn't he?”
Madre nodded vigorously. “
Sí.
Nobody works harder than Geraldo.”
“A good provider.”
“Oh,
sí.
His family always comes first. He gives us a good living.”
“He must get very tired.”
“Yes. Just last night, his muscles ache so much, I rub his back for half an hour. And his blood pressure . . .”
Savvy let the curtain drop. “Would you talk to your husband”—she glanced to Esteban—”your father, for me? Maybe he's had other thoughts since the last time this subject came up. You wouldn't want him to miss out on an opportunity that he might actually welcome, would you?”
Pretty
and
smart. That only made him trust her less.
“I'll talk to him,” said Esteban. “But now I have to get back to work. We have . . .
“ Cabbages to plant?
It sounded so . . . menial
.
For a fleeting second, Sauvignon looked affronted at being dismissed, but she recovered quickly. “Of course.” She returned to the table to gather her belongings. The click of high heels on the linoleum, the rosy scent, her striking appearance . . . it all added up to more femininity than that little room had ever witnessed. Handing him the business card she pulled from her bag, she said, “You'll call me?”

Sí.” Mierda,
she unhinged him
.
“I mean, yes.”
“One minute!” Madre leapt up and went over to the counter where she'd been cleaning produce before the second interruption of this memorable day. She stuffed a bunch of early radishes into a paper bag and thrust it toward Sauvignon. “Take these. For Jeanne. She adores them with her baguette and butter in the morning.”
“I'll see that she gets them.”
“Esteban will walk you to your car.”
Just what he wanted—the chance to feel like a second-class citizen a little longer. He had been raised to be respectful though. He leapt to his feet to get to the door before their guest did.
“Thanks,” she said with mild surprise.
Was it so shocking that a ruffian like him knew the most basic etiquette?
Without Madre's presence to smooth things over, the trek to her car was awkward. Esteban observed her every nuance . . . how she dodged the rocks in the lane in those heels, the way she hugged her big leather shoulder bag to her side, like a shield. He may only have a high school education, but he had the instincts of a Skyline Park mountain lion. Behind the sophisticated armor, something about her gave him the sense that she was as rattled as he. He closed the distance between them. Now he could gaze down onto the tender skin of her nape, where a few fine hairs had come loose from the knot at the base of her skull. As if feeling his eyes on her neck, she tucked in a wisp with cherry-red fingertips.
When they got to the Mercedes, he squeezed the chrome handle and swept open the door, noting how the small of her back curved beneath her simple dress when she got in . . . the stretch of calf between her hemline and ankle. He closed her in with a solid
kachunk
.
Then he folded his arms and watched her face reflected in the side mirror as she drove down the lane, intent on the road before her. When he finally lost sight of her, he turned to go back to work.
Somehow, though, everything seemed different. Empty. As if Sauvignon St. Pierre had sucked the life force out of the farm and taken it with her.
Mierda
.
Not only that—she'd left him harder than his spade handle.
 
“What did the daughter of the devil want this time?” Standing over him where he firmed the dirt around a seedling, Padre pulled a rumpled bandana from his back pocket. It had taken him a whole hour to bring up Sauvignon's second visit. Esteban had used the time to set the rest of the cabbage plants, trying to get over the double whammy of seeing her twice in the same day and considering the pros and cons of her offer.
“She was here on business,” he replied in Spanish. He stood, tamping the dirt with the toe of his boot for good measure. “Someone put in an offer our land.”
“Someone?” Padre snorted. “You mean
el diablo Francés
. How much did that old
cabrón
offer this time?”
BOOK: A Taste of Sauvignon
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