Deborah Smith

June 2017 $18.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-771-7

Only a miracle could bring them together.

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Only a miracle could bring them together.

A downhome Georgia girl with a gift for comedy. A wealthy doctor from French aristocracy. Only a miracle could bring them together.

Amy caught Sebastien’s face between her hands and kissed him. He made a harsh sound but took everything she offered, then wound his arms around her and returned fierce, raw energy so erotic that she shuddered and moaned against his mouth. He pulled back. "I said that I wasn’t in the mood to be kind to you. There is too much going on inside me tonight. It makes me reckless. This can only hurt you. Now stop—”

"You don’t have to worry about hurting me, or make promises about the future, or say a lot of hokey sweet things. You just have to be yourself.”

"Most women would be dismayed at that possibility.”

"I never look at things the way other people do. I guess you’re in luck.”

He studied her with a troubled, heartbreaking expression, then shut his eyes for a moment, as if making a decision. "Very much in luck.”

He kissed her again, this time sweetly and with obvious restraint. She sagged against him. Bending her backwards, he laid her on the cool, matted grass and undressed her . . .

Deborah Smith is the New York Times and Number One Kindle bestseller of A Place To Call Home, The Crossroads Café, and many other romance and women’s fiction novels.


Coming Soon!



Los Angeles, CA


"Y’ALL TERRIFY THE hell out of me. Really, truly terrify me,” Amy Miracle said, her Georgia drawl putting a slow spin on each word. "Y’all look so... so normal.”

Most of the members of the well-dressed suburban audience laughed, as they were meant to. Inside the sleek taupe silk of her trousers, bought second hand at a funky Hollywood clothes shop, Amy’s knees quivered a little less. The bright stage light felt too hot on her face; the back of her neck was damp under her hair. She wore a loose red jacket over a white blouse because she didn’t want anyone to see the blouse clinging to her underarms, where trickles of nervous perspiration were already making their way down her sides.

She wasn’t kidding about the fear. She felt as if she were a bat flying in a dark cave emitting nervous vibrations through the packed club to gather feedback so she wouldn’t slam into a wall. But she had learned to make the fear work for her.

"It’s smart to be afraid of everything,” she said. "Only stupid people think it’s safe to relax.” Beyond the lip of the small stage, somewhere among tables loaded with wine coolers and nachos, a drunk cackled. Amy never missed a beat. "There’s one, now.”

She waited with practiced timing for the scattering of laughter and ap­plause to fade. God, did she know how to wait. It had taken her years to get here. Pretending to study the small heart tattooed on her wrist, she frowned in thought. "I had a unique childhood, y’all understand. Tough. My Daddy’s idea of a home entertainment center was a gun rack and a refrigerator full of beer. But he was mellow, all right? If I forgot to clean up my room he’d say, ‘That’s okay. I’m just gonna wing ya this time.’ ”

Settling into the rhythm of her routine, she gave them a practiced look of bewilderment. "Being female makes you afraid, too. Stuff like going to the gynecologist. I always turn into Olive Oyl when I get there.” She did her Olive Oyl impression, clasping her throat in befuddled shock and wailing, "Oh, goodness, oh, my, oh, my! If Popeye had shivered his timber, I wouldn’t be in this predicament!”

Because her voice was so strange anyway, it fit the impression perfectly. Lots of people in the audience laughed now. Amy leaned toward the micro­phone as if she and the audience were companions in a conspiracy. A conspir­acy against all the ugly, stupid, absurd things in the world. "Women have good reason to be suspicious and scared. Look how everybody lies to us. Like in douche commercials. A sweet little teenage girl asks her mother, ‘Mom, are there days when you just don’t feel as... as fresh as you’d like?’ I want the truth! I want to hear that girl ask, ‘Mom, do you ever feel like... like a tuna that’s been out of water too long?’ ”

Women in the audience hooted with glee. Men laughed behind their hands, nodding. The douche bit always struck a chord. It tipped the audience over the line from wary expectation to an affectionate level of camaraderie. The battle was half won. The worst was over. Amy listened to the laughter and sighed with relief. Every night she improved. This was torture, but she loved it. It was worth every painful step. "Well,” she added with a thoughtful pause, "I always say that if you can’t laugh at yourself, laugh at other people.”

She gave them five more minutes, building the momentum, not letting them have a moment’s rest, controlling them, killing them, and enjoying the sense of power she only found on stage. When the red light began blinking on the back wall of the club, signaling her that her time was up, she gave them one more minute and knew it was the best set she’d ever done.

She left the tiny stage on a crest of enthusiastic applause and calls for more. Floating, she stepped into a narrow hall hung with photos of comics, some famous, many she knew personally, a few she called friends.

The next performer, an acne-scarred young man with a smirking grin, was waiting in the hall. "Not bad. You warmed them up for me, Miracle.” He wiggled a lecherous hand puppet at her chest.

"You and Wally the Wonder Hand need all the help you can get. Don’t muss the blouse—it’s a Kmart original.”

"God, it must be nice to have lots of money.”

"Right. In my next life I hope bank machines don’t self-destruct when I ask for ten bucks.”

"Like I really believe that. You write for Elliot Thornton.”

Amy grimaced but said nothing. Several other comedians lounged in the hall, waiting their turns to make twenty-five bucks for entertaining the Tuesday-night crowd. They stared at her with a mixture of contempt and awe because they thought she had Elliot’s backing, but mostly because she’d been killing the room lately.

She gave them a thumbs-up and moved away. They didn’t know how much she’d gone through to reach this place and moment—this ordinary little suburban comedy club thirty miles outside L.A. They didn’t know she was jeopardizing a fledgling sense of self-esteem by going up on stage.

She went to the bar and ordered a glass of Château de Savin Fumé Blanc. The manager had begun to stock it after sampling a bottle she’d given him. The de Savin label was expensive but worth it, he’d decided. He had jokingly asked if she were a wine expert. Yes, actually. But the de Savin was a senti­mental choice, as well. She pressed the cool lip of the glass against her fore­head, remembering. Even after all these years it was always so easy.

Sebastien de Savin was the only person who had ever believed that she was special. She wondered where ten years had taken him and wished that he knew—and cared—how far they had taken her.



Georgia, 1980

SHE HUDDLED UNDER the sheet for just one more minute, clinging to the peacefulness of the July dawn and wishing that Pop hadn’t ordered her out of bed at two A.M. to scrub the refrigerator. It was hard enough to deal with his tantrums in the daytime. If only she could get things right. If only she didn’t screw up so much. If only she could please him.

As she opened her eyes her stomach knotted. The exhaustion and sense of dread were old, familiar companions, honed sharply over the years. Now they were simply a part of her, like the need to daydream and the fear of being ridiculed.

The radio buzzed to life on her cheap pine nightstand. Her skin damp and sticky in the morning heat, she tossed the sheet back and flapped her T-shirt up and down over her stomach. "Wake up, north Georgia,” the disc jockey purred. "It’s seventy-eight degrees here in Athens and eighty down in Atlanta. Headed for ninety-five. Too late to play hooky. Time to go to work. You could have gone to Lake Lanier today. You could have called in sick and packed the ol’ cooler and headed for the water. But nooooo.

Amy smiled groggily. She liked it when the D.J. did his John Belushi imita­tion. She could do a pretty good Belushi herself—and recite most of the classic Saturday Night Liveroutines. Pop said the show was junk, but she had watched it since the very first broadcast, five years before. Pop thought all her TV trivia was junk. There was no tradition to it, he said.

What he really meant, she thought, was that there was no place anymore for him, no network variety shows where old circus clowns could get five minutes to do acts that harked all the way back to vaudeville. For Pop’s sake she wished Ed Sullivan were still around. She wished for anything that would keep Pop from going on tirades in the middle of the night.

The D.J. babbled about current events as she got out of bed and went to the open window. Dew and misty light covered the neatly mowed backyard. She heard a rooster crowing and the faint sound of tractor trailers roaring along the interstate, a few miles away. A trace of sunlight glinted on the long, narrow chicken coop atop the shallow hill beyond the backyard. Maisie, her stepmother, stout and gray and stoic, was trudging up the path to feed her broilers and fryers.

"... so who did shoot J.R.?” the D.J. finished, laughing. "Ronald Reagan says the Democrats did it. If Ronnie gets elected this November he promises to turn South Fork into a home for old movie stars. Bonzo needs a room.”

Amy made a mental note of the joke. It would have worked better if he’d rear­ranged the sentences, she thought, without knowing quite why that would be so. It was instinct, the same instinct that led her to file away every funny story she heard. She paid attention to stuff that nobody else noticed. She was a flake, Pop said.

Amy glanced at her clock and dressed hurriedly. The good thing about be­ing skinny and of medium height was that her clothes fit exactly the way they were supposed to fit. She didn’t have to check in a mirror to know that she looked neat and ordinary in baggy denim shorts and a pristine white sports shirt, the breast pocket appliqued with flowers by Maisie.

She slipped her feet into white ankle socks and sparkling clean sneakers. She let Pop corner the market on eccentricity; what she wanted more than anything else was to be normal. Extremely normal. She covered the tattoo on her left wrist with a white sweat band.

Wearing black sunglasses—the same cool brand the Blues Brothers used—she folded a pair of work gloves into her back pocket, tucked her short auburn hair under a big straw sunhat, grabbed her cloth purse, and went to the bedroom door. For a moment she just stood there, gazing distractedly at the high-school football pennants fading on the fake wood. As usual, her heart was racing. Then she took a deep breath and left her room.

After sniffing the air, she sighed with relief. She could smell the sweet, pun­gent odor of reefer. All was well then, or at least mellow with her father. When she reached the kitchen she found him at the table, his tall body hunched over a bowl of cereal. He had cleaned up and shaved, and he looked presentable in old Bermuda shorts and a T-shirt. His graying red hair was still damp from a shower. He’d slicked it into a long pony tail.

"Your back hurtin?” she asked, easing toward the refrigerator as casually as she could. He grunted an affirmative. Amy opened the white refrigerator door. Inside, the metal and plastic gleamed with the cleaning she’d given them in the middle of the night. Her fingers were sore from clenching the sponge so tight. The refrigerator hadn’t looked much different before the scrubbing. It hadn’t needed cleaning. That’s why she’d let the chore go for a couple of days. Welcome to another episode in Pop’s crazy world.

The Midnight Marauder, she had named him years ago. His pet peeves came out after dark, like cockroaches. His first raid had occurred not long after he retired from the circus. "Get your scrawny little butt out of bed,” Amy recalled him ordering. He had flicked on the overhead light, making her squint as she watched him in bewilderment and then fear as she saw the re­volver dangling in his hand.

"What’s the matter, Poppy?”

He waved the gun in drunken circles. "Get up! You worthless little shit, get up!”

So on a frigid February night Amy had tromped back and forth to the gar­bage pile in her teddy bear pajamas and overcoat, carrying paper bags filled with soot and ash. The mistake that provoked him hadn’t even been her own. Maisie had forgotten to clean the fireplace earlier in the day; Pop had discov­ered the oversight a few hours after bedtime. And so Maisie, her face set in lines of apology, and Amy, frightened and shivering, had done the chore at three A.M. Amy had failed a math test the next day in Mrs. Whitehead’s third-grade class, where she was behind the other students in skills, already.

Mrs. Whitehead had never asked if anything was wrong at home. Had she asked, Amy would have been too ashamed to tell the truth. Besides, she wasn’t even sure what was wrong, but she suspected that no one else in the third grade had a father like hers. In a world of farmers, tractor salesmen, and factory workers, Zack Miracle was embarrassingly unique. She had failed a lot of tests since that night in February.

The smoke from his joint made her feel a little giddy. She tried not to breathe as she got her lunch box out of the fridge and shut the door. "See ya, Pop. Sorry I upset you last night. Get some rest.”

He chewed cereal and eyed her sleepily, but without malice. He slept all day and painted oil portraits of circus life all night, which he sometimes sold at craft shows. He also fiddled with his collection of revolvers and rifles. And he drank.

She was eighteen years old and that was all she’d ever seen him do, aside from hiring out for whatever gigs his chronic back problem would allow. He did his clown shtick for children’s birthday parties, business conventions, any other event for which he could get hired. Often he made her go along as his assistant. It was like being forced to pull thorns from a bear’s paw. She never knew whether the bear would be grateful or bite her head off.

The joint dangled between his paint-stained fingertips and he blinked at her. "Next time I have to remind you to clean the refrigerator I’ll empty the damned refrigerator on your damned bed. Got it?”

"Got it.” She backed toward the door. "Have a good day, Daddie Dear­est. No more wire coat hangers. I promise.”

He dismissed her teasing with a sour look. "Got a date with Charley to­night, smart ass?”

"Yes, sir.”

"Huh. Better marry him. Your days of livin’ off of me are numbered.”

Her stomach churned. He meant it. He really did. He’d always warned that when she turned eighteen he’d give her one year to get out on her own. She’d had her eighteenth birthday in April and graduated from high school in June. With any luck she’d find a job over in Athens before long, maybe as a waitress or sales clerk. The pickings weren’t too good with the economy the way it was, and students from the university got most of the jobs, anyhow. But she couldn’t think of any other options, aside from marrying Charley.

"Pop, you know what your problem is?” She gave him a cocky smile but felt her hands tremble on her purse and lunch box. Provoking his wrath was not a wise thing, and she wasn’t aiming to do it now. "You got no faith in me, Pop.”

"Earn your way. Then we’ll talk about faith.”

"Charley has faith... ”

"Charley’s a religious fanatic. He’d have faith in horse turds if Jesus blessed ’em.” Her father grabbed his forehead and frowned. "Get out, quit talkin’. I can’t take your squeaky voice this early in the day.”

"Love you too, Pop.” She slammed the door behind her and strode down the concrete steps. She jammed her straw hat into a carrying case on the back of her battered little motorcycle. Seconds later she was flying down the graveled drive between oak trees and laurel bushes. Once on the pale gray ribbon of two-lane she pushed her face into the wind and let it whip the tears out of her eyes.

Rolling green pastures and small farms flashed by her in the morning sun. Straight, slender pine trees flanked the road. Tacked here and there to the pines were hand-lettered Bible verses, for sale signs for chicken houses, and notices that read Jesus Saves. In these parts hope was built on Jesus and chick­ens. She and Pop didn’t fit in very well. They had settled here only because Maisie had inherited five acres and a chicken house.

She guided the bike up a side road to a grand brick entranceway flanking a new asphalt drive. A carpet of magnificent, emerald-green lawn made it look like the driveway to an elegant home down in Atlanta. On one side the brick wall held a beautiful scrolled sign. Maison de Savin Vineyards. Welcome.

Acres and acres of vineyards stretched under the rising sun, their trellises filled with lush foliage. Rose bushes decorated the ends of each row, and the grass between the rows had a froth of tiny yellow wildflowers. A dozen varie­ties of grapes grew here in the Georgia soil, just as they did in France, the winery manager said.

The de Savin people had bought land here a few years ago. Everyone had been curious about a French firm purchasing property in the middle of the Georgia hills, until a company representative had explained that the soil and climate were perfect for growing grapes. The local preachers had been a little perturbed by the idea of a winery, but after the place was developed everyone felt awed more than anything else.

On a crest at the center of the fields sat a magnificent chateau of pink and gray stone, with turrets, a gabled roof, and heavily ornamented casements. Behind it was a low concrete building, where the wine was made. The château was just for show. Right now Mr. Beaucaire, the winery manager, lived there. Someday the château might be turned into a restaurant and wine store. Amy viewed the fairy-tale scene with the reverence of a peasant.

After parking her bike at the back of the winery building, she put her hat on again, then went inside a narrow door to the office. The other grape pick­ers were there, two dozen or so, black and white, young and old, every kind of person from fresh-faced high-school and college students to grizzled locals, hands gnarled by years of farming. Amy thought it exciting to be part of the vineyard’s first harvest; she liked telling people that she was working at a French château. Plus harvest work paid well, though the season was short. It had started a week ago and would end early in September.

Around her people were slipping on gloves and hats for eight hours of hot work. Like most of the younger workers, Amy took a bottle of suntan lotion from her purse and smeared some on her arms and legs, where her fair skin showed freckles along with a deepening tan. The shift started at six-thirty and ended at two-thirty, when the sun was nearly unbearable.

Feeling shy in the crowd, Amy hurried to put her lunch away. In the refrig­erator, containers of boiled ham and turnip greens sat next to cups of yogurt. Her lunch box contained candy bars, apples, and crackers, foods that didn’t require her to spend much time in the kitchen, where Pop tended to lurk at night, drinking and complaining. It also contained a much-read copy of The Hobbit. She liked adventure and fantasy.

Amy clipped a plastic water bottle to her belt. As she deposited her purse in a locker along one wall she smiled at everyone who caught her eye, but avoided talking. She’d spent her whole life fading into the background, the safest place to be.

"Allons-y! Let’s go!” Mr. Beaucaire gave them all a bored, patronizing look and waved an arm toward the door. Middle-aged with snowy white hair, he had a commanding presence even in brown work pants and a safari shirt. He wasted no time on chitchat and hardly ever spoke directly to one of the temporary workers. Around him Amy was as silent and obedient as a garden tool that could be replaced without a second glance.

She traipsed along with the crowd, enjoying the good, clean morning as best she could, considering how the day had started, She was used to feeling tired and a little depressed; most of her life she’d been isolated from other people by invisible barriers of shame. A few years ago Pop had been busted for driving under the influence. The joint in the Buick’s ashtray hadn’t helped his case, and he’d served a few months in the county jail.

The gossip at school had made her feel even more alone. Sometimes she had nightmares about someone finding his plants inside the house. Having friends was impossible, because friends asked too many questions and won­dered why she never invited them to visit. Only Charley Culpepper was con­tent to accept her excuses, and sometimes she wondered if that was what made Charley so attractive.

Amy entered the vineyards with the other workers. One of the manager’s assistants drove a tractor to the end of the rows. On a long, flat trailer behind it sat several wooden crates taller than Amy’s head. From the end of the trailer another assistant handed out big white buckets and sharp shears to each grape picker.

Amy took hers and walked down the rows, absently searching for a good spot to start, as if any one spot were different from the next. Her mind was devoted to recreating her daydreams, not deciding which grapevine to attack. She decided to begin where she’d left off yesterday.

She set her bucket down and went to work, vaguely listening to other peo­ple chatting to each other while her hands moved carefully among the leafy vines sagging with clusters of purple-green grapes. And she began to fantasize.

The beautiful red-headed slave is working in the vineyards of a Roman no­bleman. He comes along; he notices her and falls in love at first sight. She is obviously brave as well as beautiful. He tries to talk to her. She won’t answer. He is fascinated. Finally he carries her away and sets her free. Then they make love. Amy grinned to herself. She could easily spend the whole day thinking up dialogue for this scenario.

A snip here, a snip there. Two hours had passed. The slave was excellent at her work. She trimmed stray leaves and twigs from each handful of rich, bursting grapes and dropped the ripe bundle into her bucket with graceful movements of her hands.

When the bucket was full she carried it without a sign it was painfully heavy to the trailer and dumped the contents into one of the wooden crates. Then she went back to the row and began all over again, kneeling by the vines, her bearing regal. Anyone with the sense to notice would see that she was extraordinary and didn’t deserve to be a slave.

Her concentration was so complete that several minutes passed before she realized some workers had moved close to her spot and were whispering loudly among themselves.

"Where’d Beaucaire find thatguy?”

"He looks like he just came off a three-day drunk.”

"Bet he’s one of them Cuban fellers from over at Gainesville. Next thing you know, Mr. Beaucaire’ll bring in a whole bunch of those sorry shits who’ll work for a dollar a hour, and we’ll be out of a job.”

"Nah. He’s not Cuban. They’re all swarthy and short. He’s kinda swarthy, but I bet he’s six-four if he’s an inch.”

"Look at him! He can barely stand up! Ten to one he falls flat on his grapes any second! And then Beaucaire’ll jerk a knot in his tail.”

Fascinated by the descriptions, Amy looked up. The others were watch­ing someone far down the row of trellises. She craned her head to see the man.

In the years that followed she would always remember that moment. She would relive it as if watching a movie inside her mind, the colors and sounds extraordinarily vivid, the dramatic impact staggering. He stood perhaps a hundred feet from them, outlined by a nearly tangible solitude, very still, studying a cluster of grapes crushed in one big fist. He was tall, with an elegant kind of brawniness to his body. Amy stared. His mystery excited her imagina­tion.

Grape juice ran down his arm. There was weary anger in the set of his shoulders, and remnants of violence in the way he clenched the pulpy mass of burst fruit. Juice dripped onto his bare, dirty feet. His white T-shirt was stained with sweat down the center and under the arms; his baggy, wrinkled pants were an ugly green color soiled with red clay at the knees. They hung low on his hips as if about to fall off. Only a loosely knotted tie-string kept them from slipping.

He wore no hat, and his thick, charcoal-black hair was disheveled. Dark beard stubble shadowed his cheeks. His eyes were covered by unremarkable black sunglasses, but his face, making a strong, blatantly masculine profile, was anything but unremarkable.

He slung the grapes to the ground, staggering a little as he did. Then, wield­ing a pair of razor-sharp clippers so swiftly that Amy gasped with fear, he snipped a smaller cluster of grapes and shoved it into his mouth. He stripped it with one ferocious tug of his teeth then slung the empty stem over his shoulder.

"A cocky drunk, ain’t he?” someone muttered.

Amy gaped at him. The others chuckled. At any second Beaucaire would come thundering down the aisle of trellises and raise hell. It would be spectacu­lar entertainment.

What would the newcomer do next? For a man who was dirty and appar­ently soused, he had an aura of graceful arrogance. But then he went to a trellis post and leaned there heavily, resting his head on one arm. He no longer looked imposing. Fatigue seemed to drag at every muscle of his body. Amy clenched her hands, feeling a misfit’s sympathy for another misfit but wanting to scold him for making a fool of himself.

She didn’t dare. He looked dangerous—his hands were big-knuckled and dirty; ropy muscles flexed in his forearms. He wore his solitude like a shield. He swayed and stared fixedly at the ground, as if searching for a place to fall.

"Here he goes,” a man near Amy said gleefully. "Right on his face.”

But after a moment he dropped his clippers into a bucket and shoved him­self away from the post. Staggering, he headed for a wooden crate that sat at the far end of a row. When he arrived there he disappeared around the corner.

Amy waited breathlessly for him to reappear. He didn’t.

"Go get Mr. Beaucaire,” someone said. "That guy’s behind that crate ei­ther taking a nap, puking his guts out, or pissing on a rose bush.”

She swung toward the others. "No! I’ll go see what he’s doing. Don’t say anything to Mr. Beaucaire. I mean it!”

Everyone stared at her. It was the first time they’d heard her speak in full sentences. She was shocked by the outburst, herself. "I, uhmmm, I b-bet he’s just sick.”

"Well, Lord have mercy. We finally heard Olive Oyl make more than a squeak.”

Everyone chortled. Amy was mortified. Her voice humiliated her when she forgot to restrain it. People laughed at her behind her back; all through school her classmates had made fun of her. She clamped her lips together and ground her teeth as if she could crush whatever it was that made her sound the way she did. She dreaded getting a job where she had to talk. She stayed awake at night worrying about it.

But now she shoved embarrassment aside and hurried toward the crate, her heart in her throat. Behind her a woman called, "You leave that feller alone! We’re gonna go get Mr. Beaucaire!”

Amy kept walking. Maybe she sympathized with all the ne’er-do-wells of the world, or maybe she was an expert on mean drunks. But she felt that there was some good reason for this man’s problem.

Uncertainty pooled in her stomach. Slowing down, she crept up to the crate and stopped to listen. She heard only the rustle of grape leaves as the hot wind stroked the vineyard. Tiptoeing in the brittle grass, she sidled up to the crate’s back corner and peeked around.

He lay on his back. He had removed the T-shirt and stuffed it under his head as a pillow. His hairy chest held her attention as it rose and fell in a slow rhythm. His hands lay beside his head, palms up, dirty and stained with grape juice but graceful-looking nonetheless.

She stepped forward in silent awe. He slept, but there was nothing vulnera­ble or relaxed about his face. His mouth remained shut and firm. Above the black sunglasses a frown pulled at his brows. Up close he looked younger than she’d expected, perhaps no more than thirty.

She shifted from one foot to the other, gazing at his sleeping form in con­sternation. Maybe it would be best just to leave him to his fate. She bent over and sniffed. The scent of his sweat mingled with the sweet aroma of grapes, red clay, and a faint antiseptic smell that puzzled her. She knew the smell of booze and pot; neither was present.

Reassured, she knelt beside him. She removed her sunglasses and tucked them in her shirt pocket. Her hand trembling, she reached out and touched his shoulder. "Hey. Hey, wake up.”

A jolt of awareness ran through him. He lifted his head and froze. She jerked her hand back. His eyes were hidden behind the glasses, but she felt as if he were scrutinizing her angrily. She fumbled with the water bottle on her belt. There was nothing else to do except blunder onward and hope he didn’t yell at her.

"You gotta get up,” she urged, holding the bottle toward him. "You’ll get fired if you stay here. Somebody went to tell Mr. Beaucaire. Come on, have a drink of water. You’ll be okay. Get up.”

When he neither moved nor replied, her nervousness gave way to exaspera­tion. "Don’t be a j-jerk! You look like you need this job! Now take a drink of water! Uhmmm, Habla usted ingles? Si? No? Comeon, that’s all the Spanish I know! Say something!”

"I would rather listen to you say something. You say quite enough for both of us, and I like your voice.”

She stared at him, mesmerized. His English was excellent, but accented. The accent was not Spanish, though she couldn’t identify it. His voice sank into her senses—rich, deep, beautiful. Fatigue made it hoarse, but the effect was unforgettable.

"Here,” she squeaked, thrusting the water bottle close to his mouth. "This’ll make you feel better.”

He let his head rest on the wadded shirt again. Exhaustion creased the sides of his mouth. "Thank you, but no.” He raised a hand and pushed the bottle away. "I need only to rest.”

She didn’t know why, but she was desperate to keep him out of trouble. He must be too tired and sick to think straight. "You’re gonna get fired!”

"No, I assure you—”

"Take a sip.” Amy stuck the long plastic tube between his lips and squeezed the bottle hard. He tried to swallow the jet of water and nearly stran­gled. Shoving the bottle away, he sat up and began coughing.

A stream of melodic non-English purled from his throat, and she didn’t have to understand it to know that he was disgusted. She clutched the water bottle to her chest.

As he finished he whipped his glasses off and turned a stern gaze on her. Dread filled her chest, but she was too stunned to do anything except stare back. No one would call him pretty; in fact, his nose was blunt and crooked, his cheekbones jagged, and his mouth almost too masculine. It was a tough Bogart mouth, and the effect was heightened by a thin white scar that started an inch below his bottom lip and disappeared under his chin.

But all that made him handsome in a way she’d never encountered be­fore. And his eyes, large and darkly lashed in the tough face, seemed to have been inherited from a different, more elegant heritage.

"Are you... you’re not one of the regular workers,” she said in confu­sion.


"Are you sick or something?”

"Or something.” His expression was pensive for a moment. "I am only tired... just tired.... It will pass.”

"Oh. Okay. Sorry to pester you.” She started to rise. He clasped her arm.

"Don’t leave. I didn’t mean to chase you away. Here. Give me the water. Perhaps you’re right. It helps.”

While she watched in amazement he drank slowly from the bottle. She spent an awkward moment gazing at the silky movement of muscles in his neck and chest. He lowered the bottle and studied her some more. The skin around his lips was tight and pale. He blinked in groggy thought, then handed the bottle back. "You make me feel remarkably better. Merci.” His mouth curved in a private, off-center smile that erased all sternness from his face.

Amy caught her breath. Her shyness returned like a smothering blanket. Merci. He was French. Maurice Chevalier. The Eiffel Tower. Paris. Tongue kissing. "Don’t pass out, okay? Bye.” She leapt to her feet.

"A moment, fair rescuer. Do you always conduct yourself this way?”

"W-what way?”

"You leave without accepting the gratitude of your—”

"Mon dieu!” Mr. Beaucaire strode around the corner and stopped with his hands on his hips. He glared at Amy and she began to shrivel. "I didn’t hire you to flirt, I hired you to pick grapes.”

"I’m s-sorry. I was only—”

"You’re worthless! You take advantage of good wages and waste my time.” He scowled from her to the young man, then back to her. "My vineyard is not a place for you to make a social life. I won’t have you sneaking off to play. Do you want to lose your job?”

She gasped. "He wasn’t feeling good, but he’s okay now. And I just came over to give him some water!”

"I was young not so many decades ago. I know how you girls think up ex­cuses—”

"Pio, non.” The man on the ground spoke with a low, authoritative tone. "Enough.”

Amy felt desperate. "Please don’t fire us.”

"Fire us?” Mr. Beaucaire asked. "Who do you think is at fault here?” He pointed to her fellow troublemaker. "Him?”

"No!” She nodded toward the man who was now impatiently rising to his feet. "Look at him. He’s... he’s pitiful. And he’s French, like you. Give him a break. And I was only trying to help.”

"Trying to cause trouble, you mean. Trying to ingratiate yourself!”

"Pio, arrêt.” The younger man’s voice boomed with command. He rose to his full height, towering over both her and Mr. Beaucaire, who looked up at him with surprise.

They held a long, terse conversation in French. Mr. Beaucaire’s tone be­came sheepish. His face reddened. He cut his eyes at her in a shrewd, awk­ward manner. Amy began to realize the shocking truth, and her legs turned to rubber.

"My apologies, mademoiselle,” Mr. Beaucaire said finally. His voice was cold and clipped. "I did not fully understand the situation. Doctor de Savin has explained. You are, of course, in no trouble at all.”

Doctor de Savin? She lost all of her adrenaline-provoked bravado and stared at the ground. "Thanks.” Then she hurried away without looking back.

She went to her spot by the vines and worked doggedly, her face hot with embarrassment. Dr. de Savin. Of the de Savin winery. He was so young! But he owned this place. She had pestered him, squirted water down his windpipe, and then called him pitiful. She refused to look up or acknowledge the ques­tions of the other workers. The remnants of her pride were all that kept her from leaving and never coming back.

Mr. Beaucaire marched past her. She glanced at him from the corner of her eyes. There was dignity and anger in the ramrod straightness of his back. She had gotten him in trouble, she realized with alarm. Then it began to sink in that Dr. de Savin had defended her—and no one had ever done so before.

A few minutes later Dr. de Savin came around to her side of the trellis. Without a word to her he reached down and took her bucket of grapes, then strode up the row in the direction of the trailer with its dumping crates.

Amy watched him open-mouthed. When he came back he set her empty bucket down and walked on, nodding to her as he passed. Dazed, Amy stared after him. He walked to the edge of the vineyard, retrieved his shirt from a trellis post, then turned and caught her watching him. With an utterly sincere expression on his face, he bowed to her.

He was leaving. Poignant adoration rose in her chest. She wondered if she’d see him again and fought the urge to cry. Something wonderful had happened to her, finally. She lifted one hand in a silent salute to the nobleman who had just made an unforgettable impression on the slave in his vineyard.

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