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I seem to be missing one of my Shun knives. A boning and filleting knife. If you do not return it I'll be forced to ask you to replace it as I bought it during our trip to the States. They retail for around 200 US dollars.
Jess Sherwood dropped her head as the e-mail on her screen winged its way to the deleted folder. Grant was smoking something very green and very strong if he thought that she had any intention of paying him another cent. Who had supported him and his extravagant lifestyle when he'd lost his job and while he'd struggled to get his fledgling catering business off the ground?
And, while she'd dished out the money and the sympathy, every day when she'd left for work he'd found something else to do. Or perhaps she should say someone else to do the blonde living in the simplex opposite them.
The door to her office opened and Jess watched Ally enter, her iPad in her hand. Jess counted her blessings that her stunningly efficient office manager was also her best and most trusted friend.
'What's the matter?' Ally asked, dropping into the chair opposite Jess.
Jess waved at her computer. 'Grant. Again. Looking for something called a Shun knife. Urn what's a Shun knife?'
Ally, well acquainted with Jess's lack of culinary skills, smiled. 'It's a brand of expensive kitchen knives. Nice.'
'Well, if I find it in my kitchen it's yours,' Jess said glumly.
'What else is the matter?' Ally placed her iPad on the desk.
Jess waved at her computer. 'Grant's trying to yank my chain.'
Ally's bold red lips quirked. 'Judging by the scowl on your face, I'd say "mission accomplished".'
Jess wrinkled her nose. 'He's the larva that grows on the dung of.'
'Yeah, yeahheard it all before. It was over months ago, so why are you still so PO-ed?'
Jess rested her elbows on her desk and shoved her fingers into her hair, considering Ally's question. It had been a year since Grant had lost his high-powered job as brand manager for a well-known clothing chain, and six months since she'd caught him in their bed with what's-her-name with the stupid Donald Duck tattoo on her butt
Since she'd been on top when Jess had walked into the bedroom the image was indelibly printed on her mind.
Okay, so the incident had also catapulted her back to that dreadful period in her teens when No, she wasn't going to think about that. It was enough to remember that she now knew the pain infidelity causedfirst- and second-hand.
She was now wholly convinced that any woman who handed over emotional control to another person in the name of love had to be fiercely brave or terminally nuts.
She was neither.
'Well?' When Jess didn't speak, Ally shook her head. 'We've shared everything from pregnancy scaresyoursto one-night standsmineand everything in between, so talk to me, Jessica Rabbit.'
Jess managed a smile at her old nickname. 'I'm angry, sure, but at myself as well as him. I'm livid that he managed to slip his affair under my radarthat I wasn't astute enough to realise that he was parking his shoes under someone else's bed.'
Ally stood up, walked over to the credenza and shoved two cups under the spout of Jess's beloved coffee machine. After doctoring them both, Ally handed Jess her cup, put her back to the window and perched her bottom on the sill.
'I spoke to Nick on my way to work.' Jess couldn't help the smile that drifted across her face. It was wonderfully good to have an open, relaxed relationship with her brother again, after years of him operating on the periphery of her life. 'He's so damn happy with Clem, and I know that they have something special. The last of my brothersall of whom sowed enough wild oats to cover Africahas settled down.'
'And you're wafting in the wind?' Ally placed her hands on the windowsill behind her. 'And that bothers you because it's something your brothers have got right and you haven't. Love is not a contest, Jess. Do you know what your problem is?' Ally continued.
'No, but I'm sure you're going to tell me,' Jess grumbled. She wasn't sure she wanted to hear what she had to say.Ally seldom pulled her punches.
'You raised the topic,' Ally pointed out. 'Do you want me to tell you what you want to hear or the truth?'
'That's a rhetorical question, right?' Jess took a deep breath. 'Okay, I'll take a brave-girl pill hit me.'
'One sentence: you're so damned scared of being vulnerable that you try to control everything in a relationship.'
Hearing her earlier thought about control so eloquently explained floored Jess. Did her best friend know her or what?
'Being single suits you and not being in love suits you even better.'
'Can I change my mind and ask you to tell me what I want to hear?' Jess protested. She wasn't sure if she wanted to hear any more about her romantic failings.
'To you, being in love means losing controland to a control freak that is the scariest thing in the world.'
'I am not a control freak!' Jess retorted, heat in her voice.
Ally's mouth dropped open. 'You big, fat liar! You are all about control. That's why you choose men you can control.'
'You are so full of it.' Jess sulked. 'You know I'm right,' Ally retorted.
This was the problem with good friends. They knew you better than you knew yourself, Jess grumbled silently. Deciding that Ally was looking far too smug, she decided to change the subject, vowing to give their conversation some more thought later.
If she felt like digging into her own psyche with a hand drill.
Right now they needed to work. She nodded to the iPad and listened and made notes as Ally updated her on the projects she wasn't personally involved with. Jess gave her input and instructions and ran through some office-related queries.
They were concentrating on interpreting some tricky data from a survey when Jess's PA put through a call from Joel Andersen, a much larger competitor whose company owned branches throughout Africa.
He was also one of the few people in the industry she liked and trusted.
Ally started to rise, but Jess shook her head and hit the speaker button. She would tell Ally about the call anyway, so she'd save herself the hassle. She and Joel traded greetings and Jess waited for him to get to the point. Joel, not one to beat around the bush, jumped right in.
'I was wondering what did you think about Luke Savage's e-mail? I presume you're going to his briefing session for the new marketing strategy he wants to implement for his winery? I thought that if we catch the same flight to Cape Town we could share a car to St Sylve.'
Jess's heart did a quickstep as she tried to keep up with Joel. She sent a glance at her monitor; she most definitely had not received an e-mail from Luke Savage.
Not knowing what to think, she decided that the only thing she could do was to pump Joel for information. 'So, what do you think?'
'About St Sylve? He needs it I heard that he commissioned market research with Lew Jones and is open to something new and hip. But with two hundred years of Savage wine-making history and tradition, that could backfire.'
She didn't think so She hadn't eight years ago and she didn't now. It was about time he looked at updating his marketing, Jess grumbled silently. Over the years she'd kept an eye on the vineyard and was saddened by its obviously diminishing market share. The advertising was dry, the labels boring and its promotion stuffy.
And, since she was the only one who'd ever hear it, she sent Luke Savage a silent I-told-you-so.
Jess widened her eyes at Ally, who was frowning in confusion. 'My PA is just updating my iPad what time was the briefing again?' she lied.
'Ten-thirty on Friday morning at the estate,' Joel replied.
Bless his hearthe didn't suspect a thing.
'So, shall I have my PA look at flights?'
'Uh let me come back to you on that. I've been out for a day or two and haven't quite caught up. I have clients in Cape Town to see, so I might fly in earlier,' Jess fudged, and grimaced at Ally, who was now leaning forward, looking concerned.
'Well, let me know,' Joel told her before disconnecting.
Jess scrunched up her face. Damn Luke Savage and his injured pride. Her instinctive reaction was that the St Sylve campaign was hersit had been hers eight years ago and it was still hers. There was no way she would allow another company to muck it up a second time.
Jess stood and placed her hands on her hips. 'What do you know about St Sylve wines?'
Ally's brown furrowed in thought. 'The vineyard has produced some award-winning wines, but it hasn't translated that into sales.'
It had taken a bit longer than Jess had thought, but her predictions about St Sylve had come true and she felt sad. This was one of the few occasions when she would have been happy to be wrong wished she was wrong. St Sylve was a Franschoek institutionone of the very few vineyards owned by the same family of French settlers who'd made their home in the valley in the early nineteenth century. She'd loved the three months she'd spent at the vineyardhad been entranced by the buildings, so typical of the architecture of the Cape Colony in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with its whitewashed outer walls decorated with ornate gables and thatched roofs.
Apart from the main residence and guest house, the property still had its original cellar, a slave bell, stables and service buildings.
It also had Luke Savage, current owner, who'd fired her and kicked her off his property after kissing her senseless.
Jess quickly recounted her history with Luke to Ally, who was equally entertained and horrified. 'He fired you?'
'I deserved it. At twenty-two I thought I was God's gift to the world,' Jess replied.
Learning that she wasn't had been painful, but necessary. While she hadn't been wrong about the marketing of St Sylveas she'd suspected, the campaign had been a dismal failureshe'd been arrogant, impulsive and rude, approaching him the way she had.
Jess paced the area in front of her desk. 'As much as I hate to admit it, I owe Luke Savage a debt of gratitude for a major life lesson. I needed my wings clipped and to learn that being first in class, being able to regurgitate facts and figures from a textbook, means diddly-squat in the business world.'
Jess put her hands on her waist and looked at the ceiling. Then she sent Ally a rueful look. 'We had this massive shouting match and then he kissed me. He was a dynamite kisser. A master of the art.' She blew air into her cheeks. 'The best ever.'
'Ooh.' Ally wiggled her bottom.
'I don't even know if I can call what happened between us kissing it was too over-the-top outrageous to be labelled a simple kiss.'
But then Luke Savage had been anything but simple. Jess sighed. He'd been one long, tall slurp of gorgeousness: bold, deep green eyes, chocolate-cake-coloured hair, tanned skin. The list went on Broad shoulders, slim hips and long, long legs.
Jess snapped her head up. 'Sorrymind wandering.' 'He sounds delicious, but the question is what are you going to do about St Sylve? Are you going to go to the briefing session?'
'Without an invitation?' Jess looked at the ceiling. 'I'm tempted. I wish I could demand to implement a strategy for him.' Images flashed through her head of possible advertisements. Her creative juices were flowing and she hadn't even seen the brief yet. She really wanted to get stuck into dreaming up a new campaign for St Sylve.
But Luke was still the only man who'd ever short-circuited her brain when he kissed her and if she was being sensible that was a really good reason not to work for him. She didn't think she'd be very effective, constantly drooling over her keyboard.
'Phone the guy and ask him!' Ally demanded, and Jess managed a smile.
'Not an option. We didn't get off on the right foot.' Jess held up her hand at Ally's protest.
Why did her stomach feel all fluttery, thinking about him? It had been so long ago but the thought of seeing him again made her jittery and. hot.
She didn't want to get involved. She liked being single. She wanted to play on the edges of the circle and keep it all on the surface.
Why did even the thought of Luke feel like a threat to that?
Jess shook her head, utterly bewildered. Where on earth had that left-of-centre thought barrelled in from? Sometimes she worried herself, she really did.
Luke Savage sat on one of the shabby couches on the wide veranda of his home, propped his battered boots on an equally battered oak table and heaved a sigh. He lifted his beer bottle to his lips and let the icy liquid slide down his dusty throat.
He opened his eyes and watched as the sun dipped behind the imposing Simonsberg Mountainone of a couple of peaks that loomed over the farm. As the sun dropped, so did the temperature, so he pulled on his leather-and-wool bomber jacket.
'I take it you saw the monthly financials for St Sylve?' Kendall said eventually.
'We're still not breaking even.' Luke sat up and placed his forearms on his thighs, let his beer bottle dangle from his fingers. 'I can't keep ploughing money into this vineyard. At some stage it has got to become self-sustaining,' Luke added when his two closest friends said nothing.
Kendall de Villiers shook a head covered in tight black curls. His dark eyes flashed and his normally merry creme-caramel face tightened. 'We know that your father sucked every bit of operating capital out of this business before he died and left you with a massive overdraft and huge loans. You've paid off the lion's share of those loans'
'With money I made on other dealsnot from the vineyard bank accounts,' Luke countered. Kendall knew his businesses inside and out; he was not only his accountant and financial analyst, but a junior partner in his venture capitalist business.
'The wines we produce are good,' Owen Black said in his laid-back way.
Luke wasn't fooled by his dozy, drawling voice. Owen was one of the hardest-working men he'd ever come across. As farm manager, responsible for the vines and the olives, the orchards and the dairy, he got up early and went to bed late. Just as he did.
'You've won some top awards over the last few years, including Wine Maker of the Year,' Owen continued.
'It means nothing if we're not selling the bottles,' Luke retorted. 'Our wines aren't movingnot from the cellar here, and not from the wine shops.'
When both his friends didn't reply, Luke twisted his lips and said what they were obviously thinking. 'Because our marketing strategy sucks. It's boring and old-fashioned and aimed at anyone standing in God's waiting room.' Luke leaned back and popped a cushion behind his head. 'Why didn't I see it before?'
Because a smart-mouthed girl once told me it was so and I was too full of offended pride to listen to her. And because I had so much else on my plate. I figured I could let it slide for a while Stupid, stupid, stupid.
The Savage tradition of 'letting the wine speak for itself' was being drowned out by the splashy campaigns and eye-catching labels of their competitors. But Luke hadn't changed it because tradition was everything at St Sylve.
Hadn't his grandfather and father drummed that into him? Excellence and traditionthat was what Savage men strove for, what St Sylve stood for.