The Prodigal Son
Book Two in The Diamond Dust Trilogy
Harlequin Superromance – May 2011
The ties that bind…and choke!
He always gets what he wants – 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.
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“I’d like to go over those charts,” he said slowly. “If you don’t mind. Actually, it’d probably be best if we set up a meeting sometime this week so you can get me up to speed with everything going on with the vineyards. Spraying schedule. Equipment maintenance. Any soil testing you’ve done.”
She bristled. “I already told you, I run things–”
“I know. You run the vineyard like Dad taught you. But he’s not here. We are.” He held her gaze, kept his voice light. Non-threatening. “And you’re no longer running things on your own. We’re in this together.”
It was only smart business to learn all he could about the Diamond Dust’s vineyards, smarter yet to get that information from the woman who’d been a part of the company for so long, who took great pride in her work. They’d go over her information, discuss ways to make the vineyards even better. And because he knew she was good at her job, he’d listen to how she’d been doing things, take her opinions under serious consideration.
But he’d still have the final say.
She closed the distance between them in a hip-swaying walk that made him feel as if he was being stalked. “Aidan tried to give me that same line about you and me being co-managers. I’m not buying it,” she told him unequivocally. “But if going over how I do things proves to you that I’m a damn good vineyard manager, then I’ll get my laptop from my office and we can have our little meeting tonight after dinner.”
She moved to brush past him. He snagged her elbow. “I’m not staying for dinner.”
“But…this whole family dinner is for you. Your mom is doing this for you.”
His fingers tightened on Connie’s arm before he released her. “She’s hoping that now that she’d suckered me into staying in Jewell that I’d slip right back into the family fold. Filling the space I’d left empty when I left all those years ago.”
The mold he had no desire to ever fit into again.
“Or maybe,” Connie said, her tone biting, “she wants to have a nice dinner with all of her children present. Children she’s only seen rarely over the past ten years.”
Guilt squeezed his chest. But he wasn’t going to let her shame him. Not when he was in the right. He edged closer to Connie, forcing her to step back. “She blackmailed me. She coldly, ruthlessly went after what she wanted, not giving a damn how anyone else felt. And now she wants us all to be one big happy family. But she can’t have it both ways. I don’t work that way.”
“Well that’s no surprise seeing as how you’re the king of holding grudges.”
Only when they deserved to be held. “The only reason I gave into Mom’s threat was so the Diamond Dust can stay in the family. And because I did, my reputation, my whole career is on the line.”
“Wow. Way to take one for the home team. I mean, poor you, being forced to work with your family and be part of an established, profitable company. The horror.”
Frustration and fear, boiled over. He gripped her elbows, lifting her to toes. Her eyes widened, her hands clenched his forearms. “Damn it. I could lose everything.” He shook her once. “Everything.”
His breathing ragged, his emotions tearing him up inside, he did the only thing he could think of.
He kissed her.