Finished with my own meal, I push my plate away, lift my glass, and stand. “Let’s go sit by the fireplace for story time.”
“Good idea.” He grins and follows me to the fireplace, flipping a switch that makes the flames come to life, before sitting next to me on a cozy loveseat. He shifts toward me, with one knee up on the cushion, so he can look me in the eye.
“She was young,” I prompt him.
“Very. She was twenty-two when I was born. She was here in the States on a scholarship for college, and intended to always stay here. She didn’t want to move back to Italy. But, she didn’t have family here, and being a single parent is tough, so when I was about five, we went back to live with her family in Tuscany.
“My grandmother and grandfather welcomed us and loved us. We lived on their vineyard, which is where I learned to love the lifestyle.” He reaches over and pushes a strand of my hair behind my ear and rubs my earlobe between his thumb and forefinger.
The man is forever touching me.
And I don’t seem to mind.
“Mama worked as a personal assistant for a high-powered hotelier based in Florence, which was about twenty minutes from our home. When I was sixteen, the hotelier decided to come to the States to build a new resort, and he of course expected Mama to come with him, so we both came.”
“What did you think of that?” I ask. I can’t take my eyes off of him. He’s so expressive as he talks; his accent more pronounced when he speaks of his family and the home of his childhood.
“I didn’t want to come. I was horrible to her. I had suspicions that she was having an affair with him, and that’s why he wanted her to come with him.”
My eyebrows climb into my hairline. “Was she?”
“Probably. But if they were, it was discreet. I do know that they had a great deal of affection and respect for each other.”
“That’s nice,” I murmur.
“So, we came to California. Mama’s boss, Arturo Baldovini, was building a big resort near Sonoma.”
“Wine country,” I murmur with a grin, as Dom refills both our glasses, emptying the bottle.
“Exactly. Once we settled in, I did well. I took jobs with the vineyards during the harvest, earned my own money. I graduated from high school there and then went to college at Sonoma State University.”
“I didn’t want to be far from my mom, just in case she needed me.” He shrugs. “But then the resort was finished in my sophomore year, and Arturo and Mama returned to Italy.”
“And you stayed.”
“I stayed. I love it here. I worked my way through vineyards all over California, learning everything I could, so I could one day own one of my own.”
“You don’t really even have much of an accent unless you speak Italian.”
“I’ve lived here a long time. Well, until Mama got sick about five years ago. I was thirty, and I got a call from Gianna that Mama was sick with cancer, and that I should go home. So I did.” He sips his wine and cringes. “She passed less than six months later.”
“Well, the point of all of this is, while she was living, it never really occurred to me to look for my biological father. My life was happy and full, and I had a wonderful family. And during the few moments that I did wonder, it felt like I was being disloyal to her.
“About a month after she passed, I was going through some of her things and I found a box full of journals. I set them aside, intending to read them one day, but I wasn’t ready yet.
“Arturo came to see me, and said that Mama had asked him to help her invest her money, which he had, and to my utter shock, had done it well. She left me millions, Alecia.”
My jaw drops as I watch his face, the awe and the love crossing his face.
“Arturo said, ‘Your one dream has always been to own your own vineyard. This is your chance to own it anywhere in the world you want.’”
“And you chose here.”
“I chose this land before I knew about Steven.”
“No way! That’s too big of a coincidence.”
“It’s true.” He lifts a bottle off the floor at his feet and deftly uncorks it, then pours us each a fresh glass. “I’d owned this place for about two years when I came across that box of journals again. I pulled one out of the box, and a letter addressed to me fell out of it. She said that she was sorry for not telling me sooner about my father, but that she didn’t know how it could affect him. She didn’t give me all of the details, and Steven has filled me in on what she didn’t say since then, but he was on a business trip and picked her up in a bar. It was a one night stand thing, and after they had sex, he confessed that he was separated from his wife, and that he missed her and his children.”
“Yeah. He’d left her his business card, so she knew how to reach him, and when she found out she was pregnant, she did call the number on the card, but his wife answered.”
“They’d reconciled,” I guess.
“Yes, and Mama couldn’t bear the thought of ripping his family apart. So, she didn’t tell him.
“I almost didn’t look for him, knowing about his family. I didn’t want them to think that I was trying to start some drama, or interrupt their lives. But I admit, I was curious.”
“I would be too,” I add. This wine is going to my head.
“So, I hired a private investigator, and within about a month, he found him.”
“And all that time, you were less than an hour away.”
He nods thoughtfully and then shakes his head. “I was so fucking nervous. We went through the blood tests to verify paternity, but that wasn’t the hardest part.”
“What was?” I ask, expecting him to say meeting his siblings.
“Really? Gail’s great!”
“I know that now, but Alecia, how do you say hello to a woman, knowing that her husband had an affair with your own mother well over thirty years ago that you are the product of?”
“You tell me.”
He shakes his head again and sips his wine. “She hugged me.” His gaze turns to mine and he frowns in wonder. “Took one look at me and just wrapped her little arms around me and said, ‘I’m so sorry that you lost your mama, sweet boy.’”
“Oh my.” Tears fill my eyes at the thought.
“Yeah.” He takes my hand in his and threads our fingers together. His hand feels cool and smooth against mine. “I know it had to hurt her, Alecia. But she has never once treated me with any kind of malice.”