"Yeah, something like that. Before we got married she was all for having kids, but once we went on the honeymoon, she kept saying she wanted to wait. I couldn’t figure out why." He straightened up. "Autumn’s already three months pregnant. If we went for it now, our kids would be in the same grade, you know? They’d grow up together. If we wait, they…won’t."
Rob stared at him. Did Jamie think he’d be sympathetic about his marital problems when Claire had tried to run them off the ranch? Jamie must have seen his expression because he stood up. "I’m saying it so you’ll understand why Claire’s upset. She thinks that she’ll be as bad a mother as Aria was. She’s freaking out."
"So she takes it out on us?" Rob stood also. "I’m sick of playing the scapegoat."
"She’s sorry she’s been so awful," Jamie said. "I’m sorry, too. I got mad because Claire was mad, and because I want to belong to this ranch all the way. I want to be Ethan’s partner, not his hired hand. Can’t you understand that?"
Rob let out a long sigh. Sure, he could understand that. Both wanting to call the shots and feeling protective of the woman he loved. He shoved his hands into his pockets and headed for the door.
"You’ll change your minds, won’t you?" Jamie called after him.
They certainly wanted to, but Jamie was the one apologizing, not Claire, and it was Claire’s apology that really mattered. "Look, between Claire and my father, it’s too tense for us to settle down here. Morgan and I want a place to belong, too. We’ll keep looking until we find it."
* * * * *
"Try this one," Tara said, holding out a glass filled with dark red liquid. Regardless of the sip and spit tradition in the tasting rooms they’d visited so far, Morgan was beginning to feel a comfortable buzz. Swirling the wine in her glass, she breathed in its bouquet of black currant and oak. Another wonderful California Cabernet Sauvignon.
"I’m glad you two came in. Mondays are slow," the man behind the counter said. He was in his late forties, with brown hair shot with grey, and a thickset frame.
"There’s always work to do at a winery," Morgan said with a smile.
"Sounds like you know what you’re talking about," the man said, cocking his head. "You in the business?"
"Yes. Well, I was. I mean…I’m going to be." She shook her head and tried again. "I just resigned as distillery manager at a Victoria winery. I’m trying to set up my own shop in Montana."
"Montana. Wow, you like a challenge, don’t you?" He leaned an elbow on the counter and waved her and Tara onto the stools on the other side.
"I do," Morgan said, nodding and taking a seat. "But I’m running into some problems."
"Can I ask why Montana? There are plenty of wineries looking for help around here. I should know," he added wryly.
"That’s where my family is," she said. "Of course, right now they don’t seem to be too interested in my plans. That’s why I’m here."
"You said you were a distillery manager? Because I happen to be in the market for one of those. I’m Ted Hennessey. I’m the owner here."
"Oh, my goodness. I thought you were a server," Morgan said, taken aback. "You probably thought I was angling for a job."
"I was hoping you were. I mean, if you turn out to be qualified," Ted said. "Want a tour? A real tour – not the watered down one we give to customers. I’ll tell you more about the position."
Morgan turned to Tara. "Want to?"
Ted turned out to be the perfect host, answering all of Morgan’s most detailed questions about the winery’s operations. He plied them with more wines to taste; everything from his oldest vintages to his newest experiments. Morgan loved the way he listened to her opinions and seemed to give weight to the few suggestions she had to make. By the end of the tour she knew that working at Hennessey’s would be nothing like her time with Elliot and Duncan.
Ted wrote down the salary he was offering on a slip of paper, folded it and handed it to her. "Take this home and think about it. If you’re interested, give me a call. We’ll work out all the details."
Morgan and Tara were giggling like a pair of schoolgirls by the time they reached Tara’s car.
"Oh, my gosh, if you take the job I’ll be able to see you all the time," Tara squealed. "You’ve got to take it."
Reality hit Morgan squarely in the gut as she climbed into Tara’s Subaru. Sure, it was fun to entertain the idea of moving to California to work for a major winery whose owner thought you had something important to contribute, but she already missed Chance Creek and her family.
She missed Rob.
"How much did he offer you?"
Morgan opened the slip of paper and whistled. "A lot," she admitted. Much more than Elliot paid her.
"Won’t you even consider it?" Tara asked.
"Of course I will," she said. "And it’s nice to have an ace in my pocket if everyone back home doesn’t come to their senses."
"Hmmph," Tara said. "In other words, don’t hold my breath."
"Where are you going?" Ethan asked Rob that evening, when they ran into each other outside the Big House.
"Carl’s." The last thing Rob wanted was a conversation. He was struggling to keep up his end of the charade. He’d played many a practical joke in his lifetime, but never one that ran for so long. He was so terrified of being caught out he could barely speak these days.
"You’re still finishing that job? I thought…" Ethan trailed off.
"You thought I’d quit because we’re leaving town?"
"Well, you were doing it to raise money for Morgan’s winery, right?"
"I said I’d do the job, so I’m doing it. Doesn’t matter why I took it on." Rob climbed into the truck, knowing it wasn’t fair to judge Ethan for thinking he might quit in this circumstance. He had a long row to hoe before people took for granted that he was a hard worker, rather than a layabout. He’d made his bed and he was sleeping in it now.
"I’m really sorry about the way things turned out," Ethan said. "I believed in you. I still do."
Rob swallowed. Ethan had been the only one who’d stuck by him through this whole mess. He should say something in return, but somehow he couldn’t force out the words. He didn’t want to lie to his friend more than he already had. Ethan turned toward the house.
"I hope you two will change your minds. No matter what Claire and Jamie say, there’s always room for you and Morgan on this ranch."
"Thanks, man," Rob said, and started the truck before he spilled the beans.