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Did he love me?
Jessica Aguirre didn't know if he loved her. She didn't know if he knew her.
She stood on a gravel drive in the midst of a vineyard in Harmony Valley. Heart pounding. Head pounding.
Did he love me?
The man in the photograph would tell her.
Jess clutched a newspaper photo, and stared at the group of men and women in front of a two-story farmhouse with a vintage weather vane. There was a man in the back row on the left. He was the one.
She recognized him right away. Recognized dark hair with a curl at his temple. Recognized a straight, no-nonsense nose. Recognized caramel-colored eyes. Those eyes. If only she could remember
What if it wasn't him? What if this was a dead end? What if ?
Jess drew a steadying breath against the panic rising in her chest and lifted her gaze to the well-looked-after farmhouse. The day the picture had been taken there'd been big fluffy clouds in the sky above the cupola. Today the sky was clear and blue. The late January air was crazy cold, stinging Jessica's toes in her sneakers.
The slender woman who'd greeted Jess on this Monday morning hurried down the front porch steps. "He'll be here in a few minutes. Come inside the tasting room." Christine was the winemaker for the newly opened Harmony Valley Vineyards, which was headquartered in the farmhouse, the subject of the newspaper article, and where he worked. Christine's carefree smile told Jess the woman had never lost a moment, a day or weeks from her past. "We have all the amenities insidehot tea, a bathroom and a place to sit down."
"I don't want to be any trouble." Jessica resisted glancing at the clipping again. Would her unannounced appearance be welcome? Or create mayhem?
"It's no trouble. You're no trouble." Christine had the kind of smile that invited you to relax, to open up, to be part of the family. "Come inside. It's cold out here."
It was cold. Jessica's jacket wouldn't zip up anymore. And family.
In no time, Jessica was sitting at a table cradling a cup of hot tea. The tasting room was elegant in a simple way that fit the farmhouse. Dark wood, intimate tables for two, out-of-Jessica's-price-range granite slabs on bar tops. But the room was oddly empty.
"Where's the wine?"
Christine followed the direction of Jessica's curious gaze to the bare shelves behind the bar. "Barrel aging. I'll be blending some for limited release soon. But most of our harvest will age another year."
"Aging wine is all about patiently waiting, isn't it? Even when you don't know how it will turn out." Jessica had become good at biding her time. "Making wine is like waiting for bread dough to rise." Or babies to be born.
"Exactly." With a contented sigh, Christine's gaze lingered on the room as if seeing it filled with bottles of her making.
Outside, the wind whistled past, drawing Jessica to the window in time to see a muddy gray truck pull into the gravel drive.
"There he is." Christine gave Jessica's shoulder a sisterly squeeze, and then headed toward the door. "I'll be upstairs if you need anything."
Did he love me?
A man got out of the truck. Dark hair. Straight nose. Familiar eyes. It's him.
She leaned forward, peering through the paned glass, her heart sailing toward him, over ever-hopeful waves of roses and rainbows.
Jess didn't usually let herself dream. But now today him. And yet.
He wore a burgundy vest jacket that clashed with a red long-sleeve T-shirt. Worn blue jeans. A black baseball cap.
Instead, she saw him in a fine wool suit. Black, always black. A navy shirt of the softest cotton. A silk tie in a geometric pattern. Shiny Italian loafers.
He took the stairs two at a time, work boots ringing on wood.
Jessica's heart sank as certainly as if someone had drilled holes in the boat carrying her hopeful emotions. Clouds blocked the sun. The rainbow disappeared. Unwilling to sink, Jess clung to joy. To the idea of him.
He entered without a flourish or an energetic greeting. He entered without the smile that teased the corners of her memory. He entered and took stock of the room, the situation, her.
Their eyes met. His were the same color, same shape, so heart-achingly familiar.
It was the cool assessment in them that threw her off. Not a smile, not a brow quirk, not an eye crinkle.
He came forward. "I'm Michael Dufraine, but everyone calls me Duffy."
His name didn't ring true.
Had he lied to her?
She couldn't speak, could barely remember her name.
The wind shook the panes. The house creaked and groaned.
He smiled. A polite smile, a distant smile, an I-don't-know-you smile.
Disappointment overwhelmed her. Jess resisted the urge to dissolve into a pity puddle on the floor.
"And you are ?" He extended his hand.
On autopilot, she reached for him. Their palms touched.
Jessica's vision blurred and she gripped his hand tighter as clips of memory assailed herhis deep laughter, him offering her a bite of chocolate cheesecake, his citrusy cologne as he leaned in to kiss her. It is him.
Relieved. She was so relieved. Jessica blinked at the manDuffywho she vaguely recalled and, at the same time, did not.
She'd practiced what to say on the hour-long drive up here from Santa Rosa. Ran through several scenarios. None of them had included him not recognizing her.
She should start at the beginning. Best not to scare him with hysterics and panicked accusations, of which she'd had five months to form.
Don't raise your voice. Don't cry. Don't ask why.
And don't lead the conversation with the elephant in the room.
Despite all the cautions and practicing and caveats, she drew a breath, and flung her hopes toward him as if he were her life preserver. "I think I'm your wife."
Duffy released the woman's hand as if he'd accidentally grabbed a rattlesnake. "I'm not married." And he'd sure as hell remember if he had been.
"Or I was Or I was your girlfriend maybe?" She glanced down at her belly. Her very pregnant belly.
Duffy sat down heavily across from her, still chilled from the winter cold. Chilled now to the bone. "I haven't You couldn't " He swiped a hand over his face, very much aware that his boss was upstairs and the walls in the century-old house were very thin. "Who are you?"
"Jessica. Jess Aguirre." There was a quiet beauty about her. Long dark hair, big dark eyes, a smooth olive-skin complexion. Many women shared her physical features. Few carried themselves with a combination of contained dignity and edge-of-her-seat intensity. "You um don't know me?"
"You or your passenger."
Reality was returning. He could see it in her face. Jessica seemed stricken that she wasn't his significant other, but otherwise she appeared stable. She didn't wield a knife, didn't draw a gun, and she wasn't screaming to high heaven that he should know who she was.
"But you have to know me." Jessica leaned over the tableor as far as she could with that baby bumpand whispered, "We've kissed and." She glanced at her stomach.
And here Duffy had thought he'd taken care of all of his brother's loose ends. "I'm not Greg."
"Greg." She murmured his brother's name, then repeated itstronger.
"My twin." Duffy took out his wallet and handed her a picture he'd only recently started carryinghim and Greg before a Little League game.
She placed the photo on the table next to a crumpled newspaper clipping of the winery staff, her smile as soft as morning dew on a grape leaf. "Greg." She said the name as if testing it with her tongue and finding it acceptable.
He felt compelled to explain. "We were identical."
"He died nearly six months ago."
"No." She moved a hand to her belly.
"Struck by lightning." Yes, there was a God. Although, "He was killed instantly and didn't suffer." Duffy was proud of the detached way he delivered the news. His brother had been a greedy piece of trash, which some siblings may have forgiven, but not when the target was Mom and Dad. "So if you're looking for the man who did you wrong, it was him." Duffy gazed out at the cold, dormant vineyard, which felt much like his heart. "My brother was no saint."
"I don't believe that." She slid Duffy's picture across the table. "Or you wouldn't be carrying his photo."
He wasn't going to rehash the painful details of his life with this stranger. "Why are you here?"
Jessica closed her eyes. "I came looking for closure."
"Did Greg steal from you?" The question had to be asked, and he didn't hide the bitterness. Greg had taken every penny of their parents' retirement fund. Luckily, Greg hadn't spent it all before he died. "Did he promise you he'd love you until the end of time?"
"I I I can't remember."
He was dead.
Whatever Jess had been expecting to find by coming here, it hadn't been this.
He was dead.
Whoever Greg had been.
He was dead.
There'd be no tearful reunions, no admissions of mistakes, no offered apologies. How foolish she'd been to expect to show up here and find a man who loved her, one who'd fall to his knees as he held her hands and begged for forgiveness.
Sadness for Greg's death mired her insides, more for her babywho'd never know his or her fatherthan for the man she barely remembered. It seemed wrong somehow. The day. The news. The man she was left facing.
The baby kicked her ribs.
"What does that mean?" Duffy asked, pulling her back to the present. "You can't remember."
Flashes of memory shuttered in her head with every word Duffy uttered, every shrug of his shoulders, every nuanced flick of his brow. His face was austere, where Greg's had been amiable. His eyes were care-lined where Greg's had been carefree. And the clash of burgundy vest with a red-sleeved T-shirt? Greg would never have paired those two colors. Of that, she was certain.
"I was in a car accident five months ago." Jessica dropped her gaze to her baby barge, needing to swallow twice before she could get more words out. "I have retrograde amnesia. I can remember growing up. I can remember how to make sugar cookies from scratch." She swallowed again. "But I haven't been able to remember anything about my baby's father." She couldn't even remember whether they'd once been married or in love. "Not until I saw you."
"So Greg's the father?" Even Duffy's voice was different. His words spoken slower. His tone deeper and filled with cynicism.
"I'm certain of it now." She took a drink of her once-hot tea, feeling as cold as the green beverage. How much should she tell Duffy? He wasn't coming across as the most supportive listener. But what had she to lose by holding back? "You seem so familiar. I remember you kissing me"
"Greg," he inserted tersely, staring at her hard. Not only had Greg been unwelcome here, Jess was, as well.
She strengthened her voice. She'd lived too long without answers to walk away from his obstinacy. "I remember ushim and I laughing." It was hard to imagine her laughing with Duffy.
"Well, I'm glad he made someone happy." He'd perfected that unforgiving look.
Greg, what did you do? "But you were twins brothers. You didn't get along?"
"Greg would steal the belt from your waist if he could make a buck off it." So much anger. It vibrated in the air between them, pressing her back as if he'd pushed her.
Snatches of images. Smiles and laughter. Tender touches and endearing words. She couldn't believe Duffy's opinion of Greg. Still, doubt crept up her throat, closing it off.
"Greg took all your money, didn't he?"
So much weariness in his tone.
It weighed on Jess. She'd felt burdened for so long, she wasn't sure how much more she could take.
It couldn't have been Greg who'd taken her money. There'd been love between them. She just knew it. Every time she began to question it, a feeling of love would rise up. That feeling was conspicuously absent today. "I can't prove he took anything."
"Fess up. There's something missing." His gaze probed for the truth, but there was a reluctant slant to his eyes, as if he didn't want to know.
I'm so sorry, Baby. Jessica's hand drifted to her stomach. "The only thing I know is that a week before the accident, my bank account was drained."
"He did it." Duffy was maddeningly certain.
Jessica shook her head when instead she wanted to shake him. "I can't be certain of that."
"I am. I know my brother better than anyone." His lips pinched upward at the corners, so tense she wouldn't have called it a smile. "Twins, remember?"
She didn't want to believe him. There were the recently remembered smiles and kisses.
Duffy stood. His gaze cut toward the door. His feet pointed that way, as well. "Sorry about the memory thing, but I need to get back to work."
She should never have gotten her hopes up. She should have accepted that the father of her baby was gone and his family wouldn't want anything to do with her. Being unwanted was her reality.
But something inside of her wouldn't settle. Not this time. "Wait. Can I see you again?" At his frown, she rushed on. "I've recovered quite a bit today just by listening to you talk. For five months, I've had nothing." Desperation seized her and squeezed. "Please. It's important to me that I remember."
His jaw worked. He didn't look at Jess. Clearly, he didn't want to see her again and be reminded of Greg. But his hesitation meant he wasn't as cold and uncaring as he might want her to believe. That perhaps somewhere in that closed-off heart of his were memories of Greg he cherished.
Above them, the ceiling creaked.
"There's no point." But he didn't leave or ask her to go.
Hope flooded her chest. "There is. There's every point. Up until today, I couldn't remember how I got pregnant. If I'd been abandoned by my husband or raped " Steady, girl. She squared her shoulders. "I grew up without knowing my father, not even his name. All I'm asking for is a little of your time."
"I know I'm going to regret this"
"You won't." Jessica gathered her things, anxious to leave before he changed his mind.
"Come back Saturday at six. There's a restaurant in town, El Rosal. I'll be having dinner there." She wasn't entirely sure she'd heard him because it sounded as if he'd added the words Whether you're there or not.