Friday, September 09, 2005
Waiting for You - Janice Sims
Erica Bryant looked around the crowded room for her escort, Hubert. She smiled when
she thought of his name in English. In French, it was pronounced, Hugh-bare. The
French language made everything sound sexier.
Her lower lip protruded a bit when she didn’t see him. Leave it to Hubert to abandon
her in a room full of strangers. She’d been in Paris less than four hours. Luckily, she’d
slept on the plane so she wasn’t tired after traveling from northern California to France.
She was excited, though. After two years of beseeching her father to allow her to go to
Burgundy and train under Sobran Lafon, Hubert’s father, she was here! Burgundy
was known as a region whose land produced the best Pinot Noir grapes in the world.
Hence, its reputation for making superior red wines.
Presently, Erica’s family, the Bryants of Glen Ellen, California, in Sonoma
Valley, were premier makers of Sauvignon Blanche and Chardonnay, white wines.
However their land also had the potential to nurture the Pinot Noir grape, and Erica
wanted to get the best instructions possible before embarking on their new enterprise
of making the rich red wine. It made good business sense.
Winemaking was in Erica’s blood. When she was born her father sneaked a bottle
of Bryant Winery Chardonnay into the hospital room where Erica lay in her mother’s
arms and put a drop between the newborn’s lips for good luck. By the time she was five,
she was piggybacking on the tractor with her dad while he worked in the vineyards.
It wasn’t surprising that she’d majored in enology, the scientific study of wine, at UC
Davis and thrived on all of the analytical work required to be a good winemaker such as
monitoring yeast cultures, the care and maintenance of the barrels, and fermentation of
the wine. Today, at twenty-seven, she was a lab rat to the core. She would not rest
until she’d come up with the best formulation to make wines for discriminating palates.
That’s why she was at this intimate wine-tasting hosted by the Etienne Roumier
Winery. In her opinion, they made the best Pinot Noir in the world. She had
heard the astounding rumor that the winery had Pinot Noir vines on its domaine, or
property, that were over a hundred years old. She meant to see those vines before she
The event was relaxed, with tables set up around the room in the ballroom of one
of Paris’s grand hotels. There was a different vintage from Etienne Roumier’s cellars at
each table where individual waiters graciously served the guests. Erica was standing at
one of the tables being poured one of the younger Pinot Noirs. She smiled at the waiter.
“Merci,” she said, her French not even close to being perfect. However, she could
manage in a pinch. The waiter returned her smile and his dark eyes swept appreciatively
over her shapely form. She pretended not to notice and turned away.
Secretly, she was pleased that he thought she looked attractive in her short pale-
yellow dress. It was springtime in Paris and she felt very festive in it. Her new short
hairstyle made her do a double-take every time she passed a mirror. For years she’d
worn her black tresses long, and in braids. But she’d wanted something different for
her three-month stay in France; so Estelle, her stylist, had relaxed her thick hair
and cut it in a layered ‘do that required very little upkeep. She could finger-comb
it in a rush.
Erica patiently allowed the wine to sit a few minutes so that sediments would have time
to settle at the bottom of the glass. There was a tall black in his mid-thirties standing
too close behind her, muttering to himself.
Curious, Erica strained to hear what he is saying. “This tastes like swill,” he grumbled
in French. She was pretty sure she had conjugated her verbs correctly, and had
understood what he’d said. She watched him out of the corner of her eye, not daring
to look at him directly for fear he’d try to strike up a conversation with her. Although
he had declared the wine was more suitable for porcine consumption than human, he
continued to drink it with relish.
Erica swirled her wine around in the glass, contemplating its color. She brought the
glass to her nose. It had a nice, fruity bouquet. She continued to monitor the strange
man with her peripheral vision. He stopped at a nearby table and was served another
glass of red wine. She observed as he swirled the wine around in his glass as she’d done
and brought it to his nose to sniff. He wrinkled his nose in distaste, then looked directly
into her eyes and smiled at her. Erica nervously smiled back, lowered her gaze, and
moved further away from him. He followed her.
The hairs stood up on the back of her neck. Where was Hubert when she needed him?
Was she going to have to handle this creep on her own?
He murmured something else in French, and she realized he was talking to himself.
She walked a few feet away from him, gaining more personal space. She was wary of
people who talked to themselves in public, they might be unhinged. When he didn’t
follow her she breathed a sigh of relief, and finally brought the wineglass to her lips.
He slipped up behind her. “I could make better wine than this in my basement!”
This time he spoke in perfect English.
Erica nearly choked on the wine. Sputtering, she gazed up at him, irritated. He
merely smiled and peered down at her with such an innocent _expression in his thickly-
lashed, dark brown puppy-dog eyes that she suddenly forgot the rejoinder she had on the
tip of her tongue. He reminded her of someone. Whom, she didn’t know, but his eyes
were very familiar to her. He was good-looking in a disheveled way. His charcoal-
gray striped suit hung well on him, his white silk shirt open at the neck, and he had
stubble. While the trend for men nowadays was neat cuffs with cufflinks, he wore no
jewelry. She liked that. She also liked how his wavy black hair was shorn close
to his head. And the long, sharp-tipped sideburns he wore were sexy.
She glanced down the length of his body. Nice muscles under those clothes, she
thought. Too bad he’s a nut!
Finding her voice, she said, “So, you know what swill tastes like?”
“No, thank God. But it can’t taste any worse than this. It’ll turn into vinegar within
a year in the barrel,” he stated as he stood there slowly rubbing his unshaven chin.
That was too much! She was a winemaker and they were a superstitious bunch. How
dare he make dire predictions for the life of this wine? She took another sip and rolled
it around on her tongue. It was full-bodied, sweet, but not too sweet, with a nutty after-
taste. It was delicious. She felt that after some time in the bottle it would be quite
good. “At any rate,” she told him with authority. “You’re wrong. This wine is young,
but shows a great deal of promise. Now, would you please keep your negative comments
to yourself? I’d like to enjoy the tasting in peace!”
For the next couple of minutes she thought she’d struck him dumb with her rudeness
because he simply stared at her. She didn’t regret a word of what she’d said. He had it
coming, denigrating his host’s wines. He’d been rude first!
“You are right, I really should watch what I say, I might get fired,” he said with a
a twinkle in his eyes. He held out his hand. “Hello, I’m Joshua Knight of the Etienne
Erica’s mind raced. Yes, he was the head enologist at the winery. She’d been hearing
about him for years, but had never met him on her infrequent trips to Burgundy. The
Lafons and the Roumiers were not the best of friends. Their enmity went back at
least three generations. Something about Sobran’s and Etienne’s fathers once being best
friends and falling out over a woman. Erica didn’t know the particulars about the feud,
just the basics. Etienne Roumier had taken on Joshua Knight as his apprentice more than
ten years ago after his only son, Christian, had died in a skiing accident. Some said he
loved Joshua like a son and was going to leave him in charge of the winery when he
died which was unheard of in Burgundy, a rather insular society of winemakers. Usually
the winery went to a son, and a son only. Etienne had a daughter, if Erica remembered
correctly. Why wasn’t he preparing her to take over for him? Tradition, she guessed.
In Burgundy, the men worked the vineyards and the women kept house. Thank God I’m
American, she thought. She had every intention of one day running her family’s
winery. Her brother, Franklyn, was a chef and owned a restaurant in San Francisco.
Her other brother, Jason, was an attorney in Bakersfield, California. She was the only
one left to run the winery when their dad was ready to retire. She refused to think of
his dying. Even entertaining the thought caused her distress because she adored her
father. She’d wanted to be just like him ever since she could remember. As for her dad,
he’d taken one look at her in the hospital and announced to his wife, Simone, “Okay,
sweetheart, you finally win, we’ll name this one after me.”
Simone had grinned. Two older boys and he’d refused to allow her to name either of
them Eric, jr. A girl comes along, and it’s suddenly all right with him. Or that’s how
her mother had put it in her retelling of the story countless times over the years.
Erica smiled at Joshua as she shook his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Joshua.
I’m Erica Bryant.”
They allowed their hands to fall to their sides. “Yes, I know,” Joshua said warmly.
“Hubert told me all about you. You’re here in France to learn how to make good
Pinot Noir. In which case, you should be under my tutelage, not his.” His grin was
infectious. Erica decided the way his white teeth shone against the dark richness of his
skin was a definite turn-on. She couldn’t let an invitation like that go overlooked.
“I accept. You can show me around your domaine while I’m here.”
Joshua reached into his inside coat pocket and retrieved one of his business cards.
Handing it to her, he said, “I’d be delighted to show you around any Sunday. I have
the whole day off and we could have a picnic on the grounds while I instruct you in
the time-honored tradition of fine winemaking.”
Erica’s cheeks grew warm when he pressed the card in her palm with his thumb and
held her hand a bit longer than was necessary. Their eyes met. His gaze was intense,
as though he were committing her face to memory. “Call me.”
“I will,” she said.
Suddenly a young woman around Erica’s age, late-twenties, pounced on him, literally.
She wrapped her arms around him from behind and hugged him tightly. “There you
are, darling!” she purred in heavily accented English.
She sighed with satisfaction as she sinuously moved around his body to face Erica.
Petite with beautifully tanned skin, she had dark brown hair that fell to her waist and
looked as slick as sealskin. She gazed disapprovingly at Joshua with doe eyes that were
a velvety shade of brown. “We’ve been looking for you. Father is ready to give his
boring speech and, of course, he wants you beside him.”
“Erica Bryant, meet Dominique Roumier, my employer’s daughter.” Joshua
quickly made the introductions.
“Hello, Miss Roumier,” Erica said politely.
“Miss Bryant,” Dominique said coldly, her eyes never leaving Joshua’s face.
“Why don’t you stand beside him tonight?” Joshua asked, miffed at her rudeness.
“I would love to,” Dominique said, tossing her hair. She moistened her lips. “But
you’re the one he’s grooming to take his place, therefore you’re the one he wants by his
side, not me!”
Erica suddenly felt sorry for her.
Across the room, a short man in his mid-sixties, moving slowly as if he might be ex-
periencing some discomfort, approached the podium. “Good evening, ladies and
gentlemen, “ he said. “I am Etienne Roumier.”
Enthusiastic applause ensued. Joshua gazed regrettably into Erica’s eyes. “Promise
me you’ll stay right here until I return,” he said, his eyes pleading.
“I won’t leave this spot,” Erica agreed with a warm smile.
Joshua tossed a sharp look in Dominique’s direction then hurried to the stage. Erica
watched him go, her heart thudding in her chest. Her gaze settled on Dominique and
the smile on her lips disappeared. The other woman was frowning at her.
“Don’t waste your time,” Dominique said with a smirk.
“I beg your pardon?” Erica was the type of woman who felt women were supposed to
be a sisterhood, a support system for one another. She’d never engaged in warfare over a
man, and never would. This little Frenchwoman had been antagonistic toward her from
the start. Perhaps she should set her straight right away!
“Don’t misunderstand me,” Dominique told her. “Joshua doesn’t belong to me, and
I know it. He belongs to my father. That’s what I meant. He is devoted to his work, and
he doesn’t have time for romantic intrigues. So if you’re looking for something lasting,
Erica laughed softly. “We only met five minutes ago. You’re reading far too much
into this. There’s nothing going on between us.”
Dominique snorted. “I’ve never seen Joshua look at anyone the way he was looking
at you. There is most definitely something going on between you!”
Erica didn’t comment as they turned their attention to what was being said on the
podium. Etienne Roumier beamed at Joshua with pride. “My English is not as good as
it should be,” he told the guests. “I will speak from my heart and have my partner
and friend, Joshua Knight, translate.”
He began speaking in French, his dark eyes animated, his tone of voice full of
emotion. After a while, Joshua smiled at him and said, “Etienne wants to thank you
for coming. God has blessed us with a good year. No losses from hail this year.”
Everyone laughed. Tales of hail and the subsequent affect on the grape crops were
notorious in Burgundy where any winemaker could tell you horror stories of almost
being ruined by hail, or miraculous stories about God allowing them to make the best
wine of their lives with the grapes that were left undamaged after a severe hailstorm.
Etienne spoke again, this time his animated eyes turned somewhat sad.
Joshua translated. “Etienne announces that due to ill health, he will be stepping down
from the day-to-day running of the winery. He will miss functions such as these, and
seeing the faces of dear friends.”
Expressions of disappointment arose among the guests, many of whom had known
Etienne for decades. They were genuinely saddened to hear of his failing health.
Etienne raised his hand, requesting their silence. Then he spoke again. When he’d
finished Joshua appeared reluctant to translate. He bent low, whispering something
into the older man’s ear. Etienne looked sharply at him, and motioned to the microphone,
evidently insisting that Joshua translate exactly what he had said.
Joshua evenly said, “Etienne has put me in charge of running the winery.”
The applause was immediate and spirited. Everyone started talking at once about the
exciting turn of events. Etienne hugged Joshua who, resigned it seemed, fondly returned
Wondering if Dominique had known what her father was planning to do before-
hand, Erica looked at Dominique to gauge her reaction to the news but all she saw was
Dominique’s back as she ran from the room. She thought of going after her, but
decided against it. She didn’t think Dominique would accept comfort from a woman she
barely knew. So she stood with the rest of the guests and applauded the two men on the
She was almost blinded by the flashbulbs from cameras brandished by at least five
photographers she hadn’t noticed among the crowd until now. She stepped backward,
shielding her eyes, and ran into someone behind her.
Hubert steadied her. “Hold on, don’t fall on that cute fanny of yours.”
“Never mind my fanny, where have you been?” she asked accusingly.
“There are some very nice-looking women here tonight,” he said. Hubert was five-
eleven, solidly built, with dark, curly hair that he wore too long, full lips that the
opposite sex found irresistible, and soulful brown eyes that had melted many cold
hearts. He considered women to be his calling. As a priest considers God’s work to be
his. Hubert was just as devoted to the study of women in all their delightful forms. Or,
that was the impression he gave. Erica thought it was all a cover for the very sweet
man underneath his playboy demeanor.
Erica grimaced at the photographers. “Where did they come from?”
“This is big news,” Hubert told her. “The Etienne Roumier Winery has been tops in
its field for more than thirty years. They’ve maintained a standard of excellence that
many wineries will never achieve. And now he’s turning over the reins to someone
who isn’t a blood relative. It’s unheard of!”
“It speaks volumes about his opinion of Joshua,” Erica said.
“Oh, then you two have met.” Hubert sounded pleased. “Yes, Joshua is a good
man. But I do not think Etienne’s surprise went over well with him. He has dreams
of his own.”
Erica was silent. She’d unwittingly stumbled into a family drama. A daughter who
appeared to be angry with her father for not taking her seriously. A devoted employee
who was so good at his job that his employer rewarded him with the top position with the
company. How would all of this play out? She had noticed some hesitancy on Joshua’s
part when Etienne had made his announcement.
She looked up at Joshua now. He was dutifully posing with Etienne. Smiling that
wonderful smile of his. Then he politely asked the photographers to wrap it up. After
a few more pictures, the photographers did as they were asked. Joshua helped a frail
Etienne off the stage and walked him to his table. Then he bent and said something to
the woman who was sitting beside Etienne, his wife perhaps, Erica thought. The woman
laughed delightedly, then Joshua excused himself and made his way back across the room
to her and Hubert.
“Do you want me to get lost?” Hubert jokingly asked Erica before Joshua joined them.
“Don’t you dare,” Erica said. “This man is far too appealing to be alone with.”
Hubert laughed. “You Americans and your inhibitions.”
“Let’s not get stereotypical,” Erica warned lightly. “I’ve known you since you were
five. I happen to know that you didn’t even kiss a girl until you were sixteen.”
“Keep your voice down,” Hubert cried. “Do you want all of Paris to hear?”
“They will if you leave me alone with Joshua Knight.”
“Did I hear my name?” Joshua asked upon his arrival. He smiled down at Erica.
“Is this man bothering you?”
Erica eyed Hubert. “He always bothers me, but I still manage to love him anyway.”
Joshua laughed shortly. “You’ve been friends that long, huh?”
“Unfortunately,” Hubert put in with a pained _expression on his handsome face. “I
know all of her secrets.”
“Oh, please share,” Joshua said, enjoying their conversation immensely.
Erica narrowed her eyes at Hubert and cocked her head as if to say, ‘do, and die!’
Joshua laughed because he was delighted to once again be in the company of a
sister. Black women had a unique catalogue of body language that he never saw women
of other cultural backgrounds utilize. One such movement was what Erica had just done
with her eyes. It was a death threat without even saying a word.
To save Hubert’s life, he said, “Is anyone else as hungry as I am? Why don’t we go
somewhere and grab something to eat?”
“I could eat,” Erica said, brightening.
“So could I,” Hubert said, glad Erica had stopped piercing him with her eyes.
“How about Pierre Gagnaire?” Joshua asked, mentioning a popular Paris restaurant.
“You have to reserve a table there way in advance,” Hubert said doubtfully.
“I phoned and asked them to save me a table,” Joshua said, his eyes on Erica’s
face. “Have you ever been there, Erica?”
“No, I haven’t,” Erica replied.
“Then it’s settled,” Joshua said, gently taking her arm.
Outside, Hubert spotted Dominique standing alone wiping her eyes with a tissue.
He’d known her all his life. Kept apart when they were kids because of the family feud,
as teenagers they rebelled and started secretly seeing each other in their social circles.
They’d never dated. Hubert had wanted to date Dominique. She simply preferred older
men, and he was two years younger than she was. Sometimes he thought she only dated
older men to irritate her father who continually admonished her to get married and gift
him with a house full of grandchildren. Dominique would be twenty-nine on her next
birthday, and didn’t appear to be in any rush to follow her father’s advice.
“Give me a few minutes?” he asked Joshua. “I want to see if Dominique can be
persuaded to join us.”
“All right,” Joshua said. He was glad of more time alone with Erica.
In Hubert’s absence, he helped Erica into the limousine. He sat across from her. In
the close confines of the backseat, Erica could smell his cologne, a masculine scent that
assailed her senses. It was a cool May night, but his body heat made her forget the chill.
“Where are you from, Joshua?” she asked, hoping to break the spell his nearness had
cast. She leaned toward him, awaiting his reply.
“I grew up in California,” he told her.
Erica sat back on the seat, crossed her arms over her chest and regarded him with
an _expression of utter delight. “California?”
“That’s right,” he confirmed, an enigmatic smile on his full lips.
“I knew I’d seen you somewhere before!” she cried triumphantly.
Joshua grinned, enjoying the intimacy of the moment. “California’s a big state. We
could have lived there all our lives without running into each other.”
“No, there’s something about your eyes,” Erica insisted, looking into them.
They were dark, almond-shaped, and expressive. The kind of eyes that could sweep
you up into the stratosphere one instant, and send you crashing back down to earth the
next. In their depths she imagined a world of possibilities and, as now, a modicum of
pain and loss. The sadness she’d glimpsed had been fleeting, but definitely there.
“Tell me where we’ve met before,” Erica said, adamant that they had.
Joshua’s gaze shifted away from her eyes. “I don’t know what you mean, Erica. We
met for the first time not more than twenty minutes ago.”
Erica smiled slowly and shook her head in the negative. “It’s funny how you
didn’t look at me when you said that.”
Joshua met her eyes once again. He leaned forward and grasped one of her hands
in his. They stared into each other’s eyes for several seconds, after which Joshua
cleared his throat and said, “Okay, we have met before. But it was many years ago,
and I would prefer that you recall our meeting on your own without any prompting
from me. I think that the memory will then be more meaningful for you.”
Erica breathed deeply and exhaled, gathering her thoughts. She had been right.
With one good look into his brown eyes she’d known they’d met before. Curiosity
was eating her up! Naturally curious, and a lover of mysteries, she didn’t know how
she would survive the evening not knowing where they’d met, let alone having to wait
longer for his revelation or, as he’d requested, for it to finally dawn on her when and
where they’d previously run into each other.
Looking at him now, how his sensual lips peeled away from his straight, white
teeth; how the lines around his eyes crinkled when he smiled; how his very presence
filled the cab, she knew that getting to know him would be well worth the effort.
She leaned forward. Taking his cue from her, he leaned in as well. “All right,” she
agreed. “But if I can’t recall where we’ve met, you’ve got to promise me that you’ll
tell me before I have to go back home in three months’ time. Deal?”
Their hands were still clasped. He bent his head. Now their cheeks were nearly
touching. He whispered, “Very well. But you will remember me, Wendy.”
Erica fairly melted when he called her Wendy. Peter Pan was her favorite childhood
story. How could he have known that? He was giving her a clue. Her golden brown
eyes eagerly raked over his face as she willed herself to remember. Nothing came.
Joshua inhaled the heady fragrance of her cologne. It took every ounce of his strength
to resist pulling her into his arms and kissing her soundly. To believe that fate had
brought them back together after all these years. He would never have sought her out.
It would’ve been unseemly, perhaps even profoundly inappropriate to do so. He would
be lying if he said he hadn’t thought about her over the years, though. He credited
her with his choice of a career. Would he be a winemaker today if the two of them
hadn’t encountered each other earlier in life?
Now, here she was. She’d grown into a beautiful woman. But, somehow, he’d
known she would. Her mother had been an exceptional beauty and he’d figured, like
mother, like daughter. But to actually set eyes on her! He could not slow his heartbeat,
he was so excited. Although most of his memories from the summer he’d met her
had been happy ones, others had also surfaced upon coming face-to-face with her again.
The summer they met was the summer his mother died.
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