He always gets what he wants--and that's made Matt Sheppard an international success as a vintner. So he never saw his mother's blackmail coming. She says she'll sell the family's vineyard if he doesn't stay put for exactly one year. But running the Diamond Dust with his brothers was his father's dream, not his. Now he's shackled to the place by familial ties as strong as vines and tight enough to strangle him.
Worse, he's forced to work with a resentful manager, Connie Henkel. Her mile-long legs can't distract him from his goal: to improve the business and get out as soon as he can. Because if the single mom entwines herself around Matt's heart, he'll never be able to leave.
He was going home.
Not to stay, Matt assured himself as he steered the four-wheeled ATV down a row between thick, leafy vines in the eastern section of Queen's Valley's vineyards. He shut off the ignition. Never to stay.
The worst part about going back to Jewell? This wouldn't be the first time. No, he'd visited his hometown plenty of times since making his impassioned vow never to return ten years ago. He smiled ruefully. That was the problem with making dramatic, heartfelt declarations. They were hard to stick to. Especially ones made in the heat of anger.
Which was why he rarely made promises. They were too hard to keep.
Shaking his hair back, he got off the ATV and unhooked the bungee cords holding his equipment bag to the rack behind the seat. He took out his refractometer and slid it into the front pocket of his loose cargo shorts before grabbing a heavy plastic bag. Going down the row, he picked samplings of the Chardonnay grapes, tossing them into the bag.
Queen's Valley was forty acres of vineyards nestled along the Murray River in South Australia. The grapes thrived in the warm, temperate climate. All around him the vines reached well above his head with heavy clusters of healthy grapes and a well-maintained canopy, the leaves lush and green. He'd worked at wineries in Napa, France and Italy and could honestly say Queen's Valley was one of the best vineyards he'd seen.
And for the next three years, it was all his.
But first he had to return to where he'd begun. Oh, he'd tried to keep the vow he'd made graduation night. The next day he'd flown out of Virginia and told himself he'd never look back. For over a year he'd kept his distance from his family, the only contact with them an occasional email from one of his brothers, a weekly phone call to his mother. During that time he'd worked two jobs while going to school. Though it'd been a struggle, he'd managed to juggle everything and had put himself through college.
He'd figured out how to take care of himself. And as much as he hated to admit it, his father had been right about one thing. He'd had to grow up. He'd also discovered that he liked being on his own. That he didn't need his family.
Knowing that made it a lot easier to rip up the checks his mother sent like clockwork at the beginning of each month. It also let him swallow his pride and go home for Christmas during his sophomore year. Three days where, for his mother's sake, he'd tried his best to act as if everything was all right. As if all was forgiven.
But during his stay, he remembered his graduation night. His hurt and anger and resentment that his father couldn't appreciate him for who he was. Couldn't support him in what he wanted for himself.
Then, less than a year after that awkward, tension-filled Christmas, the unthinkable happened. Tom Sheppard, the man who was larger than life, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Six months later, he was dead.
And he and Matt had never discussed that night or the many issues between them, never came to terms with each other. There were no apologies. No heart-to-heart talks. No closure.
Matt gave his head one sharp shake. That was in the past now. All in the past. He was more interested, more vested in the future. And his future was right here in Queen's Valley. Continuing to pick grapes, he walked down the row, taking samples from different vines and tasting an occasional grape.
For over twenty-five years, Queen's Valley had provided top quality fruit to local wineries. Now the owner, Joan Campbell, had decided to branch out and start making the vineyard's own wines. She'd spared no expense building a state-of-the-art facility and she'd hired Matt to run...