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Jake put down the newspaper and looked up at the woman who'd been more of a mother to him than the woman who'd given birth to him thirty-four years before.
As much as he loved Dorothy, Jake wasn't going to indulge her in such a ridiculous idea.
"I think you're stark, raving mad," he said.
Dorothy laughed, something she hadn't done all that often this past year.
Jake frowned. Maybe it wasn't such a ridiculous idea, if it made her happy.
Hell, no, he immediately reassessed. She was seventy-one years old. Way too old to go buying some run-down boutique winery up in the back blocks of the Hunter Valley.
Still, perhaps it would be wise not to mention Dorothy's age in his arguments. She was sensitive about that, like most women.
Not that she looked her age. Dorothy Landsdale was one of those women who had never been pretty, but had grown more handsome with age. Tall, with broad shoulders and an impressive bosom, she had an intelligent face, with few lines on her perfect skin, a patrician nose and intense, deeply set blue eyes. Her silvery hair, which was dead straight, was always cut very short in a simple yet elegant style.
That was Dorothy's style all round. Simple, yet elegant. Jake had always admired the way she looked and dressed, although he sometimes wondered if she'd had her lips permanently painted red, because he'd never seen her without her favourite lipstick on.
Not that it mattered. Frankly, red lips suited her, especially when she was smiling.
Jake determined not to say anything that would wipe that wonderful smile off her face.
"Look, let's be sensible here," he began in the same calm, cool, you-and-I-are-reasonable-people voice he reserved for juries during his closing addresses. "You know nothing about wine-making."
"Actually, you're wrong there, Jake, dear. You obviously don't know this, but Edward once planned on buying a boutique winery in the Hunter Valley. He fancied going up there on weekends. He collected a whole shelf-full of books on the subject of wine and wine-making at the time. Made me read them so we could talk about the subject together. But then he brought you home to live with us and that idea was abandoned. Though never entirely forgotten. He still dreamt of doing it after he retired."
Jake experienced a dive in spirits, as he always did when the judge was talked about. He and Dorothy had both been shattered when Dorothy's husband of thirty years had died of a coronary last year, a few short months before his retirement. Jake had taken the news extra hard. If Dorothy was like a mother to him, Edward had been like a father, and more. He'd been Jake's mentor and best friend. His saviour, in fact. A wonderful man. Kind and generous and truly wise.
Jake knew he would never meet his like again.
Edward had left Jake a small fortune in his will, an astonishing document with a written request that within six months of his death Jake was to use some of his cash legacy to buy a luxury harbourside apartment and a yellow Ferrari. Jake had wept when he'd been told this. He'd confided these two fantasy purchases to his friend one night last year over a game of chess, also confessing that he would probably never buy them, even if he could afford to. He already had a perfectly nice apartment, he had explained to Edward. And a reliable car.
But Edward's last wishes were sacrosanct with Jake and he'd taken possession of the new apartment - set on prestigious McMahon's Point - just before Christmas a couple of months back. The Ferrari had come only last week. He'd had to wait ages to have a yellow one imported and delivered.
Both the apartment and the car had already given him great pleasure. But he would give them both back - hell, he'd practically sell his soul to the devil - to have the man himself sitting alive and well at this breakfast table with them.
"So that's what this is all about," he said with a raw edge in his voice. "You want to make Edward's dream come true."
"In a way. But don't get me wrong. This would mostly be for me. I need a new venture, Jake. A new interest in life. Edward would hate for me to be moping around all the time, thinking my life was over because he was no longer here. When I saw that ad in the Herald this morning, it jumped right out at me. But it's not just the winery. I simply love the look of the house."
Jake glanced down at the photograph of the house. "It just looks old to me."
"It's beautiful. I love old Australian farmhouses. Look at those gorgeous wraparound verandas. First thing I'd buy would be a swing seat. I'd sit there every afternoon with a gin and tonic and watch the sunsets. I've never had a house, you know. I've always lived in apartments. I've never had a garden, either."
"They're a lot of work, houses and gardens," Jake pointed out. "Wineries, too," he added, suddenly thinking of another time and another winery.
It, too, had been in the Hunter Valley. But not one of the boutique varieties. A reasonably large winery with acres under vine, producing tons of grapes each season that the anti-machinery Italian owner always had picked by hand.
Which was where he had come in.
Jake hadn't thought about that place, or that time in his life, for ages. He'd trained himself over the years not to dwell on past miseries, or past mistakes.
But now that he had, the memories came swarming back. The heat that summer. The back-breaking work. And the utter boredom.
No wonder his eyes had kept going to the girl.
She'd been the only child of the Italian owner. Angelina, her name was. Angelina Mastroianni. Lush and lovely, with olive skin, jet-black hair, big brown eyes and a body that had looked fabulous in the short shorts and tight tank tops she lived in.
But it was her come-hither glances which he'd noticed the most.
Excerpted from The Passion Price by Miranda Lee Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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