‘You’re going grape picking tomorrow?’
‘Sure. Have you ever done it before?’
He shook his head. ‘Can’t say that I have. I prefer to drink the wine from a bottle once the entire process has been finished.’
‘Leaving it up to the experts?’
‘Something like that.’
‘Doesn’t take an expert to snip off a bunch of grapes. Besides, it can actually be a lot of fun. I think you’ll enjoy it.’
‘I said I think you’ll—’
‘I heard what you said, but why did you say it?’
‘Because you’re invited.’
‘To the vineyard tomorrow.’
‘Donna and her husband have a few acres of vines. Quite small, compared to the large companies around here. Every year we all go and help pick the grapes.’
‘Isn’t it a bit late? It’s April. I thought the grapes were usually picked in February and March?’
‘It depends on the vintage, when it was planted, the weather—lots of things. The grapes on Donna’s property are ready now.’
‘They don’t have machines?’
‘No. It’s not set up for machines, so we pick by hand.’ CJ yawned again. ‘It’ll be fun…and a good way for you to get to know Donna away from the practice. I was sure you wouldn’t mind but if you really don’t want to come…’ Another yawn, her words starting to get more sluggish as exhaustion began to set in. ‘And want to look around for other accommodation, then that’s fine, too.’ She paused before saying softly, ‘I guess.’
Was it his imagination or had she sounded a little disappointed if he decided not to come and help with the grape picking? She did make a valid point, though. Networking in a less formal atmosphere would help him to build relationships with his new colleagues. Donna was a partner in the medical practice and it sounded as though several of the staff from both hospitals would be there. Ethan knew the importance of networking and reluctantly admitted CJ had been right to suggest he attend.
When he glanced over at her, it was to discover she was asleep. Her head was at a slight angle but they weren’t too far from her house. He drove a little more carefully, ensuring he didn’t take the corners too quickly.
‘We’re here,’ he announced after he’d stopped the car in her driveway. He gently placed a hand on her shoulder to wake her but he couldn’t. ‘CJ?’ Nothing. ‘Claudia-Jean?’ Still nothing. She was out for the count. He climbed from the car and opened the door to the house with the keys she’d given him yesterday. There was no way he could let her sleep in such an uncomfortable position because it wouldn’t do her or the baby any good.
Ethan slowly and carefully helped her from the car but still she didn’t wake up completely. He placed an arm about her shoulders to help, but when she sagged against him, he did the only thing possible—he swung her into his arms.
She was surprisingly light, and placed a lethargic arm about his neck before snuggling in. ‘You smell nice,’ she murmured sleepily.
He carried her through her part of the house and into her room, placing her on top of the bed. There, she pulled off the sunglasses and scarf before snuggling into the pillows. ‘Thank you.’ The words were hardly audible but he appreciated them all the same.
He stood there, watching her sleep. She still looked about eighteen years old and he smiled to himself. Her hair had come loose from one of the pigtails and was half over her face. Ethan reached out and smoothed it back behind her ear, then jerked his hand away as though unsure why he’d even performed the action. What was wrong with him?
She was beautiful, no doubt about that. There was something different about her…something unique that was drawing him in, making him want to spend time with her. Relaxing. That was it. He found being in her presence very relaxing and once again, as he breathed in, he was able to fill his lungs. It felt good…and at the same time confusing. Why was it he found her so compelling?
He raked a hand through his hair, exhaling slowly. She liked vintage cars, she liked driving in them, she liked chatting with people and being a part of a community. He could see some similarities. When restoring a car, you needed to take your time, to choose wisely. Was that how CJ lived her life? Taking her time to make long and lasting friendships? If today was any indication, he would say that was a resounding ‘yes’. Did he?
As soon as the thought came, Ethan pushed it away. He had a life—a life in Sydney that he would return to in six months’ time. He would be cleared to go back to work and that would be that. He had close relationships with his sister, his brother and his parents…at least, he used to have a close relationship with them. The past six years had blurred from one day to the next and on each of those days, work had been his only constant.