When Natalie Mitchell learns her beloved grandfather has had a heart attack, she’s forced to return to their family-owned winery in Sonoma, something she never intended to do. She’s avoided her grandparents’ sprawling home and all its memories since the summer her sister died—the awful summer Natalie’s nightmares began. But the winery is failing, and Natalie’s father wants her to shut it down. As the majority shareholder, she has the power to do so.
And Natalie never says no to her father.
Tanner Collins, the vintner on Maoilios, is trying to salvage a bad season and put the Mitchell family’s winery back in business. When Natalie shows up, Tanner sees his future about to be crushed. He knows Natalie intends to close the gates, and he's determined to convince her otherwise. But the Natalie he remembers from childhood is long gone, and he’s not so sure he likes the woman she’s become. Still, the haunted look she wears hints at secrets he wants to unearth. He soon discovers that on the night her sister died, the real Natalie died too. And Tanner must do whatever it takes to resurrect her.
But finding freedom from the past means facing it. For both of them.
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||8.30(w) x 5.10(h) x 1.10(d)|
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The Memory of You
By Catherine West
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2017 Catherine J. West
All rights reserved.
The wood-paneled walls of the boardroom were closing in.
Natalie Mitchell fiddled with the strand of pearls around her neck and took deep breaths, painfully aware that every pair of eyes in the room were fixed on her as she stood to the side of the large screen and tried to make sense of the flowchart she had been describing succinctly only moments ago.
"And as you can see, our charitable donations last year gained significant notice in the ..." Natalie tried to untangle her thoughts. She avoided Peter's intense gaze and wished for the thousandth time for her ex-fiancé to find employment elsewhere. "In ..."
Was it sweltering in here? Even as cool air blew from the vents above her, Natalie felt a drop of perspiration slide down her back. She adjusted the collar of her silk blouse and scanned her notes. Come on, think!
"I'm sorry, I ..." Natalie glanced up and caught her father's stare. The papers she held slipped from her shaking hands. She bent to pick them up off the floor, straightened, and cast about for one friendly face seated around the long table. Vague expressions and awkward silence forced a final attempt to pull it together.
Somehow she found her voice and made it through the presentation. It wasn't her best moment. Her father's frown confirmed it. One of the downsides of working in the family business was constantly having to prove herself. She'd only been head of PR at Mitchell Enterprises for a few months, so the pressure was on.
"Thank you, Natalie." Her father cleared his throat and raised a brow. "I hope you're not coming down with that nasty bug going around."
He didn't expect an answer. Not here. Natalie managed a weak smile and sat in miserable silence through the rest of the meeting. The minute it was over she gathered her things and fled the room.
She barely made it to the bathroom before the nausea overtook her.
The screeching of tires and the sickening thud that followed played over and over in her mind, no matter how hard she willed the memory away.
How was she supposed to live like this?
She'd been doing so well the past few years. This regression had to be temporary. Natalie shook her head and glared at her flushed face in the mirror. Weeks ago she could have believed that. But this had been going on too long. It was time to do something about it.
She also knew one thing her father didn't. This was no bug.
* * *
That Friday night she finally agreed to join her parents for a weekend away from the city. She loved New York, but lately the noisy, crowded city set her on edge.
Natalie sat on the porch of their Yarmouth, Cape Cod home after dinner, hoping the fresh, early September sea air would revive her shattered spirit. After the fiasco of a meeting on Tuesday, she'd given in and seen her doctor that afternoon. And the news wasn't good.
Sleepless nights, lack of appetite, nausea, and flashbacks. All the familiar signs were there. He was concerned about the possibility of another breakdown. Started her on new meds and wished she'd come in sooner.
Now she sat in semidarkness, debating with herself. She couldn't tell her parents what was really going on.
There was no quick fix for this.
"Nat-a-lie? Are you out here?"
Natalie pulled the colorful patchwork quilt tight around her shoulders and waited.
Her mother's succinct steps drew closer.
The screen door squeaked open and banged shut.
Heels tapped out an unbroken code on the one-hundred-year-old wooden planks as Jane Mitchell marched across the upper porch with purpose. "There you are. For heaven's sake! It's freezing tonight, you'll catch your death."
Natalie swiped her cheeks and sent the white rocker into high gear.
Her mother gripped the arms of the chair and brought it to an abrupt halt. "Natalie!"
The moon escaped the clouds and illuminated her wide, worried eyes. "What's going on? Your father says you almost lost it at a meeting the other day."
Natalie huffed and averted her gaze. "I did not almost lose it. I was fine."
"Like you've been fine ever since June when you and Peter called off your engagement?"
"Mom, if you invited me out here for the weekend to rehash all that, I'd rather not."
"I'm worried about you. We both are."
"You needn't be. I just had a bad day. That's all." A bad few months.
"Come downstairs to the study. Your father wants to talk to you."
"Talk or lecture?"
Her mother backed up, smoothed her crisply creased linen trousers, and patted her sleek bottle-blond chignon. The salty breeze would coax a few stray curls out of confinement any minute. "Are you coming?"
"Yes." No use refusing. She extricated herself from the rocker, dragging the quilt along.
In her father's study on the first floor, a fire danced and beckoned her over to wiggle her cold fingers before the yellow and orange flames. Strains of Vivaldi filtered through speakers hidden somewhere in the ceiling.
Her mother scoured the area like a sergeant on patrol, picking dead bits off her prize-winning violets and straightening magazines already stacked in perfect piles along the gleaming cherry wood coffee table.
Bill Mitchell held court behind his desk. The lines that creased his brow said whatever he planned to discuss was serious.
"You wanted to see me?" Natalie shuffled across the rich red-toned Persian rug and stood before him, thirteen years old again.
We're sending you away, Nat. It's a lovely school. You'll be happy there. You can move on, put all this behind you ...
Her mother positioned herself in one of the burgundy leather armchairs across from him and waved Natalie toward its twin. "Sit, Natalie."
Natalie sat and tried to shove off apprehension.
Dad leaned forward and studied her. "I'm concerned about the way you've withdrawn since June. We haven't been able to get you out here all summer. Natalie, I have to ask. Are you ..." He blew out a breath and sat back, unable to say it.
Are you having another breakdown?
Natalie sank a little lower in her chair.
That awful night at the beginning of June when she'd shown up at Peter's apartment unannounced, only to find him with another woman, had flicked some invisible switch. Since then, she'd been battling the past and all its demons 24/7.
"Don't worry. I'm totally fine."
"I don't think you are fine." Her father sounded perfectly calm, as though a maelstrom wasn't brewing. But his eyes told a different story. He was a highly respected businessman, but known as someone you did not want to cross. Unfortunately, she often felt the same.
"Dad, I said I'm —"
He held up a hand. "One moment you're giving a presentation at a board meeting, the next you can't finish a sentence. You're working long hours, but frankly, the last two presentations haven't been what I expect from you. And from what we can surmise, you spend far too much time alone in your apartment." He paused, letting each volley of words reach their intended target. "Is it just the breakup with Peter or is there more going on?"
She couldn't find the courage to tell her parents the truth. Couldn't admit that, once again, she had failed to meet life's challenges with the stoicism modeled by them.
Dad exhaled and downed dark liquid from a crystal tumbler. The storm in his eyes abated, but he still didn't look pleased. "Natalie, you can talk to us." He took on a kinder tone. "We only want to help."
"You want to help?" Natalie echoed, the irony mind-numbing. She dug her fingernails into her palms and stared at the marks they left. She remembered the last time her parents had tried to "help" and shuddered at the thought.
What could she say now?
A shutter banged against the side of the house and shook her. The evening's predicted storm was rolling in.
"You're not pregnant, are you?"
"Bill!" Her mother's horror was almost humorous.
"What, Jane? It's a logical question, is it not?"
Natalie watched them shoot sharp, swift, and silent arrows at each other.
When had they chosen sides, turned into opposing teams?
"No, Dad. I'm not pregnant." If she remembered those high school health classes correctly, you actually had to have sex with someone for that to happen.
"Well, that's a relief." Color crept back to his cheeks. "In any event, I think you need some time to get yourself together. I'd like to suggest you take a leave of absence."
"A what?" Natalie stared at her father and tried to mentally swerve around the hairpin turn in the conversation. He was cagey. Brilliant, really. You never knew when he was trying to catch you out until after the fact.
"We think you need a break. So I'd like you to go to California."
He really needed to stop throwing verbal knives in her direction.
The return of her nightmares had already sent her world careening off course, chaining her to a roller-coaster ride she couldn't stop.
No. Going west was not an option.
Aggravation niggled the corner of her father's mouth. "Well?"
"I can't take time off now. I've got important meetings all next week. I ... are you actually serious?" Natalie tossed the quilt off her shoulders.
"Quite." Dad set down his glass. "We've got people to cover for you. I want you to go to Sonoma. To see your grandfather."
"Grandpa Hal?" Natalie tried to tear her thoughts from the multitude of scenarios about what would happen at work in her absence, pulled fingers through her tangled mess of hair, and searched the photographs on the bookcase behind her father's desk.
Silver frames encased the images of their childhood — school portraits, Christmas dinners, Natalie's brief foray into show jumping, her high school grad photo — and tucked between the bigger moments of their lives sat a small black-and-white image of Hal Mitchell holding a chubby two-year-old Natalie on his knee.
She hadn't seen her grandfather in years.
But going back to Sonoma ... the place she'd tried to ignore for so long ... until the memories barged back in and refused to retreat. Images of that dark night never really went away. Thirteen years had passed since Nicole's death, yet it could have happened yesterday. There were other places she could go if he insisted on her taking a vacation.
Natalie laced her fingers together to keep her hands from trembling. "I don't think I can."
Her mother gave a wisp of a sigh and placed a hand on Natalie's arm. "Well, then. Bill ..."
"Jane. Enough." Dad pushed a worn looking leather photo album toward her. "I hadn't looked at these in years." He sat back and massaged his jaw. "I'm well aware how difficult this is, Natalie, but I'd like you to consider it."
"You always said that was your favorite part of summer, going to California." Mom leaned in to look at the pictures.
"Yes, for some reason, you loved Maoilios." Dad's mouth puckered, as though the name of her grandfather's winery was bitter on his tongue, like a sour grape.
"I did love it." Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad. And it would certainly provide the opportunity to get over this latest setback alone, without their interference.
"Such an odd name for a winery." Her mother peered at a tattered photograph. "Oh, Nat. You were a little pudgy back then, darling."
Natalie reached for the album and stared at the image.
The memory sprang to life. She was maybe six or seven, stuffed into an old tire swing, her sister Nicole pushing her.
"Pudgy" was being kind.
Natalie studied another photo. Two little girls looked up at the photographer with identical grins. Both with curly brown hair tied in pigtails, sporting red ribbons. Nicole had a dimple in her right cheek. Natalie didn't. Fraternal twins. As they got older it was easier to tell them apart. Nicole possessed a natural beauty, a sparkle that seemed to draw people to her. Natalie simply stood in her sister's shadow.
She put down the photo and picked up another. Scrunched her nose and stared at the castle-like structure.
Maoilios — a place she'd once loved more than anything.
The magic of it made her free. Free to do what she wanted, free to be herself. Free from overbearing parents who would often go off on side trips of their own, leaving the girls in the care of their grandparents.
Natalie enjoyed those times most.
And then, the year they turned thirteen, on a perfect starlit August night, in one screeching, skidding, sickening moment, everything changed.
She sat back again and shook her head. "Why are we doing this?" The unanswered question joined the silent choir of things her parents refused to discuss. "Why now?" She searched her father's face. "I haven't been there since the accident. We haven't seen Grandpa Hal more than a couple of times since Grandma died."
Dad suddenly looked uncomfortable. "We probably should have told you earlier, but your mother didn't want to upset you." Deep grooves privy to untold secrets furrowed his brow.
"Told me what?"
"Your grandfather had a heart attack, Natalie."
"A heart attack?" The words squeaked out. "When?"
"What? How could you not tell me? Mom, come on ..." Natalie watched her mother fiddle with the large rings on her fingers and knew she was on her own.
"Don't be so dramatic," Dad growled. "We're telling you now."
Natalie stifled the argument, still treading water, trying to keep from going under. "Why didn't you go to see him?"
"He told me not to bother." His jaw tightened and he nailed her with his classic don't-dare-defy-me look. "So. I would like you to go. See how he's doing." The space between his eyes got smaller. "And actually, he's asked for you."
"For me?" She tapped her worn deck shoes together and watched a few grains of sand fall onto the rug. "I don't want to go back there." She could only whisper the words.
But part of her longed to.
Longed to return to the place she'd once loved so much, to see her grandfather again, to hear his laugh and bask in the smile that always made her feel like the luckiest girl in the world. With Grandpa, there was no competing. No trying to pretend. He loved her for who she was.
Dad took another swallow of Scotch. "I understand your reasons, God knows. But you can't hold on to those memories forever. Maybe if you go back and face it, you'll let it go."
Let it go.
Natalie startled as the fire cracked and hissed along with the pointed words.
Somehow he'd known. Seen right through her with hardly any effort at all.
"My sister died there, Dad. I could have —" She made fists and shut her eyes against the scene.
"I know." He cleared his throat and sat in silence for a long, painful moment. "But I think you need to go, Natalie." He was as unrelenting as the wind that now battered the trees outside.
You have to go away to school, Natalie. You're failing every class. It's time you learned to buckle down and stand on your own two feet.
"Natalie." Her mother's flawless face seemed strangely lined and pinched. "Your father and I really would like you to go." They were a team again. It worked when it suited them.
Natalie picked at stray threads on the quilt and watched a section of stitching unravel. "Is Grandpa in the hospital?"
"No. He's home now. He sounds well enough, insists he's fine, but who knows." Uncharacteristic worry laced her father's tone. "But he's going to drive himself into an early grave with that confounded vineyard. Another reason I want you to go, see what's going on. Perhaps it's time to shut the place down."
"Shut it down?" Surely things weren't that bad.
"Should have been done years ago," Dad started in again. "Regardless, it will do you good to get away, clear your head. Your flight is booked. You'll arrive early Friday morning."
So she didn't have a choice. Typical. "I can't just leave. I can't ..." Her final attempt to find a way out fell flat. He was right. She was more of a hindrance at the office and they would survive without her. And if Grandpa Hal wanted her ...
"Natalie? Are we in agreement?"
What if, in some way, this was just the reprieve she needed?
"All right. I'll go."
"Good." He rubbed his eyes, looking tired. "So, you're really okay? Because if you need to see another doctor or —" Natalie's mother lifted her head. "Bill, really, she said she's fine. I don't think that's —"
"Jane." Dad held up a hand and shut her down.
Her mother sighed and began to twist her rings again.
Natalie never knew what her mother was thinking, never knew how she felt. And couldn't imagine what it must be like to live a life marked in half-finished sentences.
Excerpted from The Memory of You by Catherine West. Copyright © 2017 Catherine J. West. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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