Brave Enough

By: M. Leighton

ONE


Weatherly

I’m surprised that I know the way back to Chiara. It’s been years since I’ve visited our family vineyard in the outskirts of a small Georgia town called Enchantment, but I find that I know the turns even before the navigation tells me which way to go. When I was growing up, it was one of my favorite places in the world. Winding roads, lush green hills and purple-gray mountains rising up in the background—it’s like the best of every world, all in one spot.

Already I feel a little less claustrophobic just leaving Atlanta behind. Don’t get me wrong. I love that city, but with my father and his old cronies bearing down on me, I had to get away. I can’t very well come up with a plan to save myself if they’re occupying all my time and hovering around every corner.

The lightly scented breeze whips through my hair like a lover’s fingers as I slow my convertible to make the last turn. I barely creep along the serpentine road, taking my time to enjoy the sun filtering through the trees and the broken glimpses of row after row of grapevines. Being here feels like coming home. It always did.

Throughout my entire childhood, we would come here for two weeks every summer just before harvest. Dad would catch up on the vineyard business for the first couple of days, but then he’d relax with Mom and me. We ate meals together, we swam together, we played board games at night together. We acted like a normal family and I loved it. There were no pretenses to keep up, no important people to entertain, no pressures from the outside world. Just us in a mountain hideaway, protected by rows and rows of grapes.

Even now, I feel the stresses of my life draining away as I drink in the sweet scent of the air. It’s as familiar as the bustle of city life, but as removed from it as east is from west. Although I haven’t been here since before I went to college, time is already melting away as though I visited just last week. Here at the vineyard, little changes.

As I drive past the rows, a flash catches my eye. I slow to a stop and focus on a broad, sweaty back as a man drives wooden supports into the ground in front of a downed vine. I let my gaze travel over him. He must be new because I don’t recognize the physique. And I think I’d remember if there had ever been a man built like this on Chiara grounds.

His shoulders are easily double the width of mine and he’s probably almost a foot taller, just guessing. And I’m not short at five foot seven. As I start to pull away, I let my eyes linger on his impossibly narrow waist and hips, and the world-class ass that fills out the black denim.

I’d love to see if the face goes with the body. I’m very curious about him now, and about what the heck he’s doing here. Maybe I’ll run into him later. If I’m lucky.

I came back to Chiara looking for some peace and quiet, some time to find a way out. I would not be at all opposed to a handsome distraction, though. It’s been too long since I’ve been able to want somebody just because I want them and not because of how they may or may not fit into my life. Maybe it’s high time to go with my instincts. To go with someone who might be all wrong for me. To go with the passion. To throw caution to the wind.

As my dark, loosely curled hair flutters around my face, my optimism climbs with my speed. Maybe, just maybe, this little vacation will get a whole lot more interesting. It would be nice to get lost in something not planned and not political. Something real, something innocent to the ways of the world.

Is that too much to ask?

For my life, probably. But that doesn’t mean I can’t hope for it. Or try to have it. At least for a little while. A few weeks maybe.

When I pull up to the top of the circular drive, I shut off the engine and grab my smallest bag from the backseat. It has all I’ll need right now—my toiletries and a change of clothes. I want to get the grime of the road off me before I unpack and get settled.

I glance at the ivy-covered stone front of the main house, a smile tugging at my lips. So many good memories here.

The front door is unlocked when I climb the wide front steps and test the knob. Maybe Stella is cleaning today. Although I didn’t tell anyone I was coming (mainly because I didn’t want my father to find me right away), she keeps the house ready at all times. That must be what she’s doing.

“Hello?” I call when I step into the grand foyer with its Brazilian cherry floors, vaulted ceiling and antique chandelier. My voice echoes around me, but otherwise I hear no sign of life.

I set my bag at the foot of the winding staircase and head off past the formal dining room to the kitchen at the back of the house. “Hello? Stella?” I call again. No answer.

With a shrug, I make my way back to my belongings and carry them up the stairs to the room I’ve always stayed in. It’s just one of the guest rooms, but it has a charming window seat that I used to curl up in a lot as a little girl. In my head, that made it mine, so that’s how I’ve always thought of this particular room—as mine.

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