The Sicilian's Bride. Carol Grace

The Sicilian's Bride - Carol Grace

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meaning to everything he said, he was impossible to ignore. She couldn’t concentrate on the house. Not when he filled the place with his tall, masculine presence and his overwhelming confidence. All she knew was that no matter what its flaws, no matter how much he offered her for it, this house was hers and she was holding on to it.

      Behind the house was the small pond dotted with water lilies. She leaned down and dangled her arm in the cool water.

      “For irrigation,” he said.

      “Or swimming,” she said. She pictured lawn furniture, a striped awning, and herself cooling off in the fresh water on a hot summer day in her very own pond.

      He braced his arm against the stone wall and surveyed the scene. Was he resentful of her enjoying her own pond? Or was he simply remembering summer days when he had swum with his siblings here and feeling sorry that he never would again? From the look on his face she doubted he had any happy memories at all. What was his problem? Was it really only her and her ownership of this place?

      His dark hair was brushed back from his face making his strong features stand out like those on a stone carving. He might have first looked like a farmhand, but now she could see him for what he was, the aristocratic lord of the manor, totally accustomed to having his way. To acquiring whatever land he wanted. And full of resentment at knowing this land was hers now.

      “I’d avoid the pond,” he said curtly, “unless you’re not afraid of water snakes.”

      She pulled her arm out of the water and dried her hands on her skirt. Spiders, snakes, what else?

      “You can see it hasn’t been used for years,” he said. “Your uncle…”

      “I know. He neglected it. I know why you sold it, but why did he buy it from you?”

      “Probably thought he’d cash in and make a fortune from the grapes. A lot of people have the idea it’s easy and profitable to grow grapes and make wine.” He pointedly looked right at her, leaving no doubt about who he meant. “It’s an illusion. Outsiders often can’t tell the difference between a burgundy and our local grecanicoa, let alone how or when to harvest an Amarado grape. It’s hard work.”

      “I don’t doubt it, but…”

      “I know, you don’t mind hard work. Believe me, you have plenty of it ahead of you.”

      She wanted to say he had no idea of how much this place meant to her no matter what condition it was in. She also wanted to ask him how and when to harvest these special dessert-wine grapes, but that would just confirm his suspicions that she was no different from her uncle, both ignorant dreamers. Maybe she was worse, since she hadn’t even paid for the place. She didn’t even know what she was getting.

      “The first spring frost he let the vines freeze and came roaring down the mountain to take refuge in the valley and never went back.” He shook his head with disgust.

      “He was out of his element. What did you expect?”

      “I expected him to sell it back to us before he died. But he was just as stubborn as you. All I want is the land back,” he said. “Back in the hands of someone who appreciates the terroir, the soil, the land where these grapes are grown. Is that so hard to understand?”

      She straightened and put her hands on her hips. “Give me a little credit. I didn’t just take the next plane over here. I did my homework. I am prepared to appreciate the terroir as much as anyone. Even you. And I haven’t insulted your relatives, you know, as you have my uncle.”

      “Go ahead. If you met them, you’d see my younger brother is immature. My mother is domineering. My grandmother hopelessly old-fashioned. My grandfather is stubborn and opinionated but hard-working. Years ago he planted some of these vines, nurtured them, picked the grapes and bottled them. I take responsibility for their loss. Now I owe him and the whole family to get them back.”

      She didn’t understand why he took responsibility or why he owed them when it was a family operation, but she couldn’t mistake the hard edge to his voice. He was not only determined, but he had his whole family to back him up. She was outnumbered. It didn’t matter. She had the deed to the land. They didn’t. Sure she felt bad for his grandfather, but for once she was going to put herself first.

      They couldn’t force her to sell—unless she couldn’t sell her wine because it wasn’t good enough or because what he said about waiting years to see any profit was true. Or unless something else unexpected happened. Even in the heat of the midday sun, a cold chill ran up and down her arms. Had she made a huge mistake by coming here? Thinking back, all the surprises in her life had been unhappy ones except for this inheritance, which she took as a sign her luck had finally changed.

      She noticed Dario hadn’t mentioned a wife in his list of relatives. Which didn’t mean he didn’t have one. Anyone who looked like him was bound to have a woman in his life. But who would put up with that bitterness she heard in his voice or that single-purpose determination that left no room for anything else? Were those the same traits he saw in her? Surely she wasn’t bitter, although she was certainly determined. He shouldn’t begrudge her a small piece of land if he owned half the valley.

      She’d like to meet his family, just because they were her neighbors and she wanted to fit into the local society, but they probably already hated her as he did for refusing to sell her land to them. Nonetheless, she envied him. What wouldn’t she give for a big family she could tease and criticize and love despite their failings?

      “What does your family think of you?” she asked. Maybe she was the only one who saw him as a difficult person to deal with. She doubted it. Not with that iron jaw, ice-cold blue eyes and stubborn chin. Or did he suddenly turn into a devoted grandson and lovable sibling when he was home? That was hard to imagine.

      “Cold, ruthless and heartless. They say I’m different because I’m not relaxed and easygoing like a true Sicilian. I’m too determined, too driven, even obsessed. When things go wrong I don’t shrug and say tomorrow will be better. I make it better. That’s why…” He stopped in mid sentence, with his gaze fixed on her, as if he could make her see she had no chance against a formidable foe like him. She could imagine what he was going to say…that’s why I will take possession of this land and you won’t.

      “But they love you anyway,” she suggested. She hoped she didn’t sound as skeptical as she felt.

      He didn’t answer. After a moment she filled in the silence. “You’re very lucky. I never knew my parents. I never knew any family at all. No grandparents, no home, no family. I was an orphan.” She kept her voice light, as if being an orphan was no more important than being brown-eyed or left-handed. She hated being on the receiving end of pity. But how she’d envied the kids with a home and a family, especially those with grandmothers. The kind who baked in kitchens that smelled like fresh bread, wore aprons and had laps to curl up in. How did she even know they existed? From picture books and from other kids. Certainly not from experience.

      “I grew up in foster care,” she explained.

      He looked puzzled but he didn’t say anything. She began to feel foolish for going on about her background when who cared, really? Maybe it was that he had no idea what she was talking about.

      “Never mind, it’s not important. You say my uncle never made any wine while he was here?”

      “He wasn’t here that long. Breezed into town from America or God knows where, bought the vineyard, walked away from the vineyard and soon afterward he died. No one knew much about him. Where he really came from, why he was here at all. Some people said he was on the run from the law in California. Who knows? It was clear he had no idea what it took to run a demanding operation like this. All those wasted grapes. Whatever wine there is was made by my family and it would be in the cellar.”

      Dario led the way to the kitchen where stone steps led to the wine cellar. In the kitchen they passed an ancient cooktop tilted to one side. The place reeked of cold and loneliness. It would be a job making it livable, but she could do it. There was an old wooden icebox and an oven

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