Almost two weeks later, Nikolai slipped off his headset and fastened his seatbelt as the captain announce their decent. It had been months since he had last seen his father and once news struck that he had taken a sudden ill spell, Nikolai jumped on the first flight to Nappa valley.
It was a hit June morning with the kind of airless heat that he remembered from his childhood. Insects buzzed and hummed in the grass alongside the parking area, just as they always. He had the crazy feeling that his father was going to ride into view, look at him from under his bushy brows and say, “Boy, what are you doing here, lazing around? Go help George with the grapes.”
His lips curved at the old memory. It was a breath of fresh air coming back here. After the rough couple of weeks that he’s had, he needed the distraction.
Between Tanya taunting him and Victoria acting as though he barely existed, even the guys at his office knew to steer clear of him after he had almost knocked of Hansel Thomps on his butt the morning after Victoria had thrown him out.
He had told himself that his bad mood had nothing to do with Victoria Sinn. He was overworked, was all.
But try as he he might, he couldn’t even convince himself. “Cut the crap, Hoffmann,” he muttered to himself. It had every damn thing to do with her. Why the hell wouldn’t it?
No man wanted to be dismissed the way that he had. And to be punched in the face...it was no wonder why his mood was foul.
A hand clamped down on his shoulder.
“You’re a couple hundred miles away from comfort, Nikolai.” A familiar voice came from behind him.
Nikolai turned around and frowned at the smiling face of his supposedly very ill father. He stepped back and looked his dad over.
“Aren’t you suppose to be in bed?” He asked.
“I’m old, Nikolai,” David growled, ” Not dead.”
“No,” Nikolai quickly said at the hint of offence in his father’s voice. “Dad, it’s not what I meant. I was told that you were very sick.”
The old man arched a brow at him, then slowly did a spin as evidence that he was doing fine. “Who that you that god awful lie?“he asked.
“Whoelse but that lying daughter of yours.”
David shook his head and scoffed. “Of course, she did.”
“Oh, hell,” Nikolai said with relief, he threw his arms around his father. “I’m glad she lied because it’s nice to you all the same.”
David laughed, patting at the back of his son. “Come,” his said, ” “I’m sure your mother will be ecstatic to see you.”
“I’m in for a good scolding, arent I?” Nikolai asked, scratching the back of his head. His father gave him a knowing look before they both began to laugh, walking towards the house.
The shower and the change of clothes helped. So did the first beer. After an hour, seated on the deck and watching a pair hummingbirds fight a duel to a patch of honeysuckle, Nikolai had just decided that this weekend away in Nappa Valley was all he need after all.
David had gone back into the house to collect another couple of beers. All was right with the world, Nikolai thought.
Now, if only Daisy would show up. She had gone to town on an errand, David had said. Daisy was part of the family. Well, to them atleast, but in reality she was the daughter of his father’s deceased friend. Nikolai could still remembered the night that his parents had rode in with her in the back of the car. She had noone else to take care of her, they said, and the rest was history.
He looked up, grinned and got to his feet in time to catch Daisy and whirl her around.
“Hey, darling,” he said, kissing both of her cheeks soundly, ” I was just thinking about you.”
Daisy wrinkled her nose. “Really? What about?”
“Oh, nothing in particular. Was just getting abit lonely out here without you.”
She smiled.“Right. Your parents not company enough for you? When did you get in?”
“An hour ago,” he pulled a long face,“I was disappointed that you were part of the welcome committee.”
“I would have been,” she replied, batting her thick eyelashes at him, “had I known you were coming.”
“Right. ” Nikolai shrugged,“If I hadn’t been tricked into coming here I would have done so.”
“Of course. Tanya pulled a fast one on you didn’t she?.” Daisy laughed as she plopped into a rocker and stretched out her denim-clad legs.
“She’ll get hers once I get back to the city.” Nikolai said, sitting back down in a high-backed wicker chair.
Daisy grinned. “Speaking of the city, what’s new in your life?”
The door slammed as David stepped onto the deck with two long-necked beer bottles dangling from each hand.
“Daisy, you’re back.” He said, placing the bottles on the floor and settled his long frame into one of the wicker chairs.
“Yeah, dad and Nikolai was going to deluge us with one of his fancy stories about the city life.”
“Is he now?” The old man grinned, ” deluge us then, Nikolai.”
“With pleasure.” Nikolai said and he began telling them about work, friends and his new bachelor pad that he had just acquired.
“That’s all nice and all, Nikolai. But do you mean to tell me that there’s no special lady over there keeping you from us?” David teased.
“No.” He replied plainly. Not wanting to add anything to the subject.
“Liar.” Daisy said and smiled. Nikolai threw her a sharp look. One that she knew too well. It meant put a sock in it. Yet she didn’t seem like she was about to oblige.
“I heard that you were up to no good with a particular little dark haired.” She added.
“Oh really?” David’s eyebrows rose.
“I am not up to anything with nobody,” Nikolai said sharply.
Both Daisy and David gave each other a knowing look.
“Looks like I might have put my foot in cow pie or something.” Daisy said, David brought his beer to his lips, giving Daisy a side wink.
After a second, Nikolai laughed, or atleast tried to. “I’m sorry, Daisy. Can we just change the subject.”
Daisy’s lips curved at both sides. “What subject?”
And just like that they began talking about the next harvest and reminiscing about old times.
It was one of the things that he loved about Daisy. She understood him without him having to explain himself.
It would be so easy to just tell them, he thought, to just come out and say : yes, there is a little brunette that was messing with his head. After spending the night in bed with her, he couldn’t stop thinking about her and remembering things that didn’t add up. Like the way she had turned cold and threw him out, though she had cried the last time that she came in his arms.
Nikolai blinked. Both David and Daisy were staring at him with worried looks on their faces.
“You okay there? Your mind seems elsewhere.” Daisy asked.
“Yeah,” he replied, “just thinking about work.” He lied, forcing a smile to his lips.
Work was the furthest thing on his mind. But what was he going to do? Tell them the truth and make the looks permanent? No way, even he,himself didn’t understand half of the stuff that was going on inside his head.
“Dads attorney is coming down.” Daisy said,reaching for Nikolai’s beer, lifted it to her lips and took a long drink.
He spared his father a suspicious look. “You’re serious about selling, dad?”
David sat back and crossed his feet at the ankles. “I got a deal in the works. A company I want to buy. I’ve been thinking about expanding.”
“Expanding? Are you buying another vineyard?”
“Not exactly,” David said, “I’m thinking of investing in a ranch, in Texas.”
David chuckled. “Hoffman money is invested in lots things. I think a ranch might just be one other smart investment. Don’t you?”
“Maybe. Have you seen the place?” Nikolai queried.
“I’ve seen pictures,” David said,“which is why I’m going to need you to go up there for a day or two, to check the property out.”
Nikolai laughed. He didn’t mean to but he honestly couldn’t help it. “The hell do I know about cows and horses?”
“Stop selling yourself short son. Plus, you’d be taking Daisy with you. She’ll inspect the property for me.”
Nikolai shook his head in disbelief. ” You’re still a surprise to me, dad. A ranch. A damn ranch.”
“Life is full of surprises, son. Well? Will you go or not?”
Nikolai thought about it. A couple more days away sounded pretty good to him.
“Yes.” He said before thinking about it too long and change his mind.
“See,” Daisy said,“I told you that he would go.”
Somehow he feel as if he was bound to go regardless if he wanted to or not.
“What’s the name of the ranch?”
“Hawks.” David frowned. “The place was actually left part of an inheritance. The heiress will be down there herself with her lawyer.”
Nikolai nodded before getting up. “She wouldn’t happen to have a name, now would she?”
David looked up and said, “Victoria Sinn.”
Nikolai flet the floor tilt under his feet. “Victoria Sinn.” He said hoarsely.
“Uh-huh.” His father gave him a slow smile. “Is that a problem, son?”
Their eyes met and Nikolai thought about asking what the old man knew or about hiw he could possibly know...
And then he thought about the woman who had taunted him ever since that night of the auction and about putting an end to this nonsense, once and for all.
“No,” he said calmly, “it isn’t a problem. Not in the slightest.”