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The house was too quiet for Andrea Danbury's peace of mind. She walked over to the closed bedroom door and knocked. "Steve? Are you up yet?"
No response. She put his breakfast tray on the floor and tapped again before opening it. What she saw had become all too familiar. Steve de Roussillac, her employer of twenty-three years, lay across the bedclothes, so hungover from alcohol he wouldn't be up for hours.
There was no use trying to rouse him.
Three months ago his wife had divorced him. Since then his health had been going downhill and he barely touched the meals Andrea fixed for him. She was alarmed by his weight loss and knew he needed to see a doctor—maybe several. But only his son, Max, could influence him to get the medical help he needed. Unfortunately, it didn't look as if that miracle would come to pass.
Andrea found it tragic that since the divorce, Max had come to St. Helena only once. Though he was a mere hour and a half away, he might as well live on another planet for all his pining father saw of him. She was really frightened for Steve and knew something had to be done.
With nothing more to be accomplished right now, she picked up the tray and left the main house for the cottage around back, where she lived and had her own art studio. She checked her watch. Ten after nine. Her mind made up, she reached for her cell phone and called 4-1-1 for the number of the Chandler Banking Corporation.
When Andrea was connected, she had to listen to a long menu before she could press 0 for a live voice. Eight rings represented an eternity. She almost lost courage.
"Chandler Corporation. How may I direct your call?"
"I'd like to speak to Max de Roussillac, but I don't know his extension."
"Just a moment please."
Thirty-eight-year-old Max Chandler de Roussillac was the newest and youngest CEO ever to rise to that position in the Chandler Banking Corporation of San Francisco. His mother, Helen Chandler, Steve's ex-wife, was one of the Chandlers of the Bay area, but Steve swore it was brains, not nepotism, that had put his son on top.
Andrea's heart raced in trepidation. Whether he was in his office or out of the country doing international banking business was anyone's guess. She broke out in a cold sweat just contemplating their imminent conversation. It meant trespassing on two people's lives.
She didn't have the legal right, but had to do something quick. Not only Steve's emotional and physical health, but the welfare of the vineyard itself were on a downward spiral with no hope of a reversal.
Steve might resent her for interfering, but she loved him too much as a friend to stand by and watch him waste away from grief over a failed marriage and its aftermath.
"Mr. de Roussillac's office."
Her hand tightened on the phone. "May I speak to him, please?"
"He's been in Zurich and is flying home today. I've been advised he'll be in early tomorrow. If you'll leave your name and number, I'll make certain he returns your call."
After a debate with herself Andrea said, "This is personal. I'll call him back."
"Yes. Thank you."
She hung up, determined that if he turned out to be too busy to take her call first thing in the morning, then she would drive to San Francisco and talk to him face-to-face.
Over the last two months Max had not so much as called his father. Every day Steve would wonder aloud how his son was doing. Whether he would come by soon. Max's cruelty to his father by his absence, let alone his silence, was anathema to Andrea, but she couldn't do anything about that right now.
Max's dark, lean looks made him an exceptionally attractive man. But it was what was on the inside that counted, and Andrea could not understand why the man had turned against his father. Grown cold like his mother.
Helen was known as one of the great beauties of the Bay area. When Steve had first introduced her to Andrea, she could see his wife's reputation was well deserved. Steve was good-looking himself. It explained why Max, who'd inherited the Chandler height, was such a striking man.
Over the years she'd watched him and his mother come and go from the main house. Helen had been friendly to her in the beginning, but over time her visits became more infrequent and she rarely did anything but nod to Andrea.
According to Steve, theirs was a tempestuous love affair. They came from different worlds. He was a son of the soil and didn't fit into the Chandlers' social world. Many differences, including his pride and her inflexibility, drove them apart. Then came the shock, three months ago, when Steve told Andrea his marriage was over.
What was most important to Andrea was rescuing her employer and friend from slowly killing himself.
In a half hour she had a ten-o'clock business appointment, and she needed to get going. Her prospective client wanted to see some of her hand-painted ceramic tile samples before redoing her kitchen.
Within minutes, Andrea was in her car and driving around the main house to where the road met the highway. She was on her way to Rutherford, the town where she'd been born forty-one years earlier, seven miles southeast of the de Roussillac vineyard in St. Helena. Other charming towns like Rutherford, Oakville and Calistoga dotted the fertile Napa Valley, an area north of San Francisco renowned for its wine making.
In her opinion the de Roussillac wine was extraordinary, but this last year the vineyard had been neglected because of Steve's depression. And further inattention and everything he'd worked for—the very reputation built over four generations of de Roussillac wine produced here—would be lost.
According to the foreman, Jim Harvey, the winery had been losing revenue for the last year. He'd been forced to let some of the crew go. Deep down, Andrea wished Steve would let Jim go, and hire another manager.
Jim was lazy. Steve should have found another vintner to replace him years ago, but Andrea didn't feel it appropriate for her to talk to her boss about that.
All this weighed on her mind while she went along with her day. Passing her favorite florist, she bought some freshly cut flowers to take to her aunt in the Bellflower Nursing Home in Rutherford before starting back.
Edna Green was actually her great-aunt on her mother's side. Long ago, she had taken Andrea in after her parents had been killed in an horrific freeway accident. It was a huge task to raise a devastated fourteen-year-old girl. Despite her drinking problem, Edna had a heart of gold and had looked after her the best she could.
By age seventeen Andrea had graduated from high school and was working as a waitress at a restaurant in Rutherford. Chris Engstrom, a pilot who'd come down from Alaska to work, started eating there, and they fell in love. As soon as he made enough money, he'd planned to marry her.
When Andrea discovered she was pregnant, her aunt had let Chris move into the tiny apartment with her and her aunt and live with them until the baby was born and they could get a place of their own. Chris had insisted on paying the rent and buying groceries.
Tragically, he'd died before they could be married. His one-engine plane had crashed into the ocean and his body was never recovered. He didn't get to see their baby, Samantha, but Edna had been there for Andrea through her grief.
Andrea loved her aunt and owed Edna her life. Now things had turned around and she was able to take care of her financially and every other way. Though her aunt had suffered from Alzheimer's for the last two years and no longer spoke or knew anyone, Andrea visited her every day if possible. It was no sacrifice, not after everything Edna had done for her.
With a kiss to her forehead, Andrea left the nursing home to drive back to St. Helena. En route she heard her cell phone ring, but she was on the highway and her purse had fallen between the seat and the passenger door, where she couldn't reach it. If it was her daughter and she missed it…
She drove quickly around the main house to the cottage. Once she'd gathered her things, she rushed inside and pulled the phone from her purse. Sure enough, the second Andrea retrieved the message she heard Sammi's voice.
"Hi, Mom. I'm leaving you a voice mail because I can't bring myself to talk to you in person. Vietnam's heat is oppressive and the constant language barriers have gotten to me, but I've been contracted for this photo shoot so I'm just going to have to deal with it. I'll be here two weeks before I leave for Thailand. In an emergency you can always reach me by e-mail. Give Aunty Ed a hug from me. Say hi to Steve."
Too soon came the click. Andrea's heart plummeted. In despair, she sank down in one of the kitchen chairs and buried her face in her hands.
Her daughter had been so deeply wounded by what Andrea had done—or hadn't done, whatever way you chose to look at it—she'd left for the Far East and could no longer bring herself to have a direct conversation with her own mother. It haunted Andrea, who feared she might never be able to mend the terrible breach between them.
It was her fault for never telling Sammi the whole truth about her father. Though she knew he'd been killed in a plane he'd leased to fly advertising banners, Sammi wasn't aware he had extended family who might still be living in Alaska.
Four days ago, her daughter had accidentally found her father's journal while cleaning out a closet. It had been hiding in one of the many zippered compartments of his old backpack. Years earlier Andrea had put the pack in a carton filled with books and other items she couldn't bring herself to look at. She hadn't known the journal existed. There were brief references to family. A smattering of pictures.
In one of them he and another man, both grinning, were holding up a huge salmon they'd just caught. In another he had his arms around a pregnant Andrea, and wore a broad smile on his attractive face. One more showed him with his parents.
The unearthed evidence had shocked Andrea, but it had shattered Sammi.
"I have grandparents and you never told me?"
Desperate for her daughter to understand, Andrea had explained that though Chris had kept in touch with his parents, he hadn't told them about his personal life because he'd always felt he didn't measure up, and needed to prove something. She knew he sent some of his salary home, but he'd never explained to her why.
He'd said that when he became a success he would take Andrea and their child to Alaska to meet his family, but not before. His decision had hurt her deeply. She'd realized he hadn't told her everything about his life before he met her, and this slowly ate away at her newfound happiness.
Maybe he'd been nervous because she wasn't the kind of woman his parents would have wanted for their son. Or perhaps he'd been embarrassed to be a thirty-two-year-old man who'd gotten a seventeen-year-old pregnant. Andrea had looked older for her age. At the time they met, he'd assumed she was at least twenty, and she'd let him believe it until she'd been forced to tell him the truth.
In all likelihood he'd regretted getting involved with her. Whatever his reasons for not wanting his parents to know of her or the baby, she'd lost confidence in herself. Even before he was killed she'd been so vulnerable. She'd feared he'd fallen out of love with her.
At seventeen she'd understood so little about him. Their passion had been short-lived, and he'd died before she'd been given much-needed answers. By the time Sammi was old enough to hear the truth, Andrea didn't have the confidence to contact Chris's parents, who had no idea she existed.
With hindsight, Andrea realized she'd been too emotionally immature to deal with the situation in a forthright manner and get in touch with his parents anyway. Every decision made had been the wrong one, but she'd never dreamed that twenty-three years later her daughter would unearth a secret that had brought on this crisis. Because Andrea had remained silent, the omission had erected a wall between her and Sammi too high to scale.
The day before yesterday Sammi had left St. Helena. On her way out the door she'd turned to Andrea in anger. "After I've finished my commitment in Thailand, I'm flying straight to Alaska to find my grandparents, if they're alive!"
The memory of that painful moment caused Andrea to shudder. Her thoughts flew back to the months after Sammi had been born and Andrea had set out to find a job that would allow her to support both Sammi and her aunt, as well as spend time with her daughter. She'd discovered that Steve de Roussillac, the married owner of a vineyard in St. Helena, had been advertising for a woman to do occasional housekeeping and work in the wine-tasting room.
Tourists from all over came to sample the Napa Valley wines. The de Roussillac family produced Riesling, a wine that was slowly gaining popularity in the region. Her job came with free room and board plus a salary. Andrea felt it was heaven-sent because the cottage was a good deal bigger than the apartment. There was more room for the three of them.
With Andrea holding down a steady job, her aunt didn't have to worry about money. Andrea could keep her daughter with her while she worked. Best of all, Steve, who lived in the main house when he wasn't with his wife in San Francisco, was very kind. He appeared to be the dream boss.
In the end Andrea had done everything humanly possible to make a good life for Sammi and Edna, and be the perfect employee. Over time Steve became more like a favorite grandfather to Sammi. To Andrea's mind he brought a certain stability to their world. The man whom she'd discovered was in a tumultuous marriage had turned out to be Andrea's best friend. He'd helped her through her darkest period.
Another wave of sadness swept through her. Steve was the one who needed help now, but she was meeting with little success in that department.
While she sat there in sorrow, it suddenly dawned on her she was due to open up the tasting room located in the front of the main house. She jumped up to wash her face and redo her makeup before heading over there. Work was supposed to be a panacea for suffering. Since Sammi had bolted, work was the only thing saving Andrea from wallowing in pain.
Posted April 2, 2010
"A Mother's Secret" by Rebecca Winters. Max de Roussillac places his recently divorced alcoholic dad Steve in rehab while taking over managing the family vineyard. However, his return means seeing the love of his life who jilted him just before their wedding. Andrea Danbury still loves Max, but fears his reaction when he meets her daughter though her Samantha is overseas and not really talking to her.
"A Daughter's Discovery" by Dominique Burton. Samantha Danbury seeks her paternal heritage in Alaska with plans to meet her recently discovered grandparents. However, when she meets park ranger Jake Powell, she falls in love with him, but he is a misanthrope who prefers his female to be Beastly the dog.
These two interrelated charming family dramas, ironically written by a mother-daughter duet, hook the reader throughout due to a strong cast. Character driven readers will relish A Mother's Wedding Day as Rebecca Winters proves once again how talented she is and her daughter Dominique Burton displays the gene pool with an equally strong entry.
Posted April 5, 2010
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Posted April 25, 2010
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Posted January 29, 2010
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Posted May 22, 2011
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Posted February 27, 2012
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