“Meredith is helping out around the house for a little while,” Jack explains simply.
Christine isn’t satisfied, so I smile and hold out my clean hand. “I’m the new housekeeper. Pleased to meet you.”
In a flash, her expression softens. Apparently, my job as Jack’s housekeeper immediately whisks away whatever jealousy might have been building inside her. It’s as if I held up a sign that read, Don’t worry, you’re better than me—on the inside and out.
Still, she can’t help but size me up. Her gaze scans over me quickly, clearly assessing as she goes. I wish I’d put on a little more makeup this morning. She’s decked out like a blogger at fashion week. Meanwhile, I look like I’ve been hauled out of the ocean after a year alone on a deserted island. I should be the least threatening female she’s ever met. Still, when she scans down to my jeans, her eyes go wide with wonder. “Are those the new distressed skinnies from J Brand?”
I glance down. “Oh, umm…I don’t—”
She walks around me so she can see the back pockets. “They are!” She jerks back around to face me, gripping my shoulders in her hands, shaking me gently. My brain rattles in my head. “Where did you get these?! They’ve been on backorder on every website I search.”
I laugh, slightly embarrassed, slightly aware of the emphasis she put on the “you” of that question. “I got them back in California, actually.” Truthfully, they were just one of a dozen designer pairs hanging in my closet. I didn’t think much of them and now I feel slightly guilty that I wore them all week while scrubbing toilets. She’s so impressed, I think she’d rip them off me if she could. “I’d let you have them, but they’re kind of all I have at the moment.”
She laughs and finally releases me. I breathe a sigh of relief.
“I know what you mean,” she says while flipping her hair. “When you find the perfect pair of jeans, it feels like you can’t wear anything else.”
Edith opens her mouth to inform her she misunderstood, to tell her these are actually the only pair of pants I own, but I beat her to it.
“Preach it, sister.”
She beams and I smile back.
“California, huh?” she asks. “What are you doing in this hellhole?”
Jack scowls behind her, but I do my best to ignore him.
“It’s kind of a long story.”
Her manicured brows arch with interest. “Well, I’m dying to hear it.”
Christine won’t stop talking about Meredith. We left the ranch thirty minutes ago and we’re supposed to be on a date, talking about us and our future. Instead, she’s going on and on about my new housekeeper. Don’t get me wrong, I love most any excuse to avoid talking about our relationship, just not this one.
“Is it weird that I have a girl crush on her?”
Not that weird considering every ranch hand on my property has an actual crush on her.
“She’s really pretty,” she continues, a little too airily.
I swing my truck into the first available parking spot outside of Hill Top Vineyards and kill the engine.
She laughs as she unbuckles her seatbelt. “Thank you for that, but it’s not necessary. I’m not accusing you of wanting her, so there’s no sense in pretending you’re blind.”
I know a trap when I see one.
“She’s my employee, and Helen’s sister,” I point out, hoping that will force her to drop the issue.
It does. We walk in silence up to the tasting room at the top of the hill. Hill Top Vineyards—aptly named for its location—has been around for a few years. They’re a leader in Central Texas vino, and I’ve been meaning to drive out and experience the place myself for a while.
“It’s annoying, really. That whole fresh face, no makeup thing only works for like five percent of women.”
So I guess we’re back to talking about Meredith. I want to groan.
“I always say you don’t need that crap,” I tell her.
She laughs and pats my shoulder. “That’s sweet of you to say, but you’ve never actually seen me without a full face of makeup.”
I narrow my eyes, racking my brain. Surely… “How’s that possible? We’ve been together for two years.”
She shrugs. “That’s what happens when you see someone once a month. We might have been together for a while, but in some ways it still feels like we just started dating.”
I know what she means. There have been door-to-door salesmen I feel like I know better than I know Christine. It’s an unsettling thought, but I shake it off and usher her inside the winery.
Since it’s a Friday evening, the place is packed, but I planned ahead. We have reservations for a tour and tasting, and we arrive just in time to go with the next group.
My dad started the vineyard at Blue Stone Ranch nearly 20 years ago, and even though I have someone else heading the day-to-day operations, I try to stay as educated on the industry as possible. It’s not like I’ll glean any trade secrets from a public tour at Hill Top (unless I’m lucky), but that’s not my aim. I like tasting the wine, talking to the employees, checking out the atmosphere. It’s important to see how we stack up against our competition.
I’m enthralled through the entire tour. Most people are there to get shitfaced while feeling superior to poorer people with Bud Light. The level of pretense and false interest is high, but by the time we’re out in the vineyard, we’ve lost half the group. Meanwhile, I’m glued to the tour guide’s side as if there’s a written exam at the end. The guy hates me, wasting my time with fluff. “And did you know one vine produces roughly ten bottles of wine?” No one cares.
I chime in. “Are you guys administering the fertilizer after the vine has blossomed or closer to when the grapes are about a quarter inch?”
He doesn’t know the answer and we move along to the outdoor receiving area where the growers deposit the freshly harvested grapes. From there, we head inside to see the fermentation vessels: the huge, stainless steel tanks that house the pulp while it turns into wine. They have a larger facility than we do (I ask the tour guide the exact square footage, but he doesn’t know), and I’m especially impressed by their aging rooms. We age our red wine in oak barrels as well, but from the looks of it, they produce nearly twice as much volume as we do. After that, I grab Christine and skip the part of the tour that leads through the bottling room—we just paid a branding company an arm and a leg to design our packaging. Besides, I’m getting hungry.
Finally, I’ve found a weakness: their food is shit. I know it’s common to have light fare like fruit and nuts in tasting rooms, but at Blue Stone, we make sure there are better, more filling options available. After all, these people eventually need to drive home.
While we’re sampling various white wines, the owner—a man about my age, named Vince Davies—comes to find me. He claps me on the shoulder and I turn to greet him.
“My tour guide says you were harassing him,” he teases.
“Just getting my money’s worth.”
“You know I would have taken you around the place myself if I’d known you were coming.”
I wave away his offer. “How am I supposed to steal all your secrets with you shadowing me?”
His eyes sweep over to Christine and I introduce them.
Vince smiles. “Ah, now I see the real reason why you didn’t want me around.”
I laugh good-naturedly then go back to shoveling birdseed into my mouth. I’m starving.
“Oh stop,” Christine says with a subtle blush. She’s obviously impressed with Vince, and I’m actually glad she’s so eager to talk to him for a while because I’m happier taking a back seat in social settings like this.
“You have a beautiful winery,” she says with a flirtatious smile. “I think we’ll head out and watch the sunset in a little while.”
“To be honest, the view is probably 90% of why people come out here,” Vince admits. “The wine is just the cherry on top.”