Chapter One:  TYSON

Tyson moaned when he saw the limo pull up outside the tasting room. It was five-thirty — the room closed at six — he’d hoped to spend the last half hour of his shift in peace and quiet, nursing the big glass of Pinot Noir in front of him. He could tolerate the pasty rich couples that wandered through all day swirling, sipping and spitting while practicing the use of their favorite wine words. But big groups of people who toured Yamhill in limousines? It could be only one of a few unpalatable options, and as the large group of women poured out of the limo and stood on unsteady legs in tight jeans before regrouping to come inside, he became certain which one it was. Bachelorette party.

Squatting down beneath the bar, he drained his glass, and stood back up just in time to plaster what he thought was a welcoming smile on his face. The bride-to-be sashayed in, a banner around her body and a pink tiara on her head. Shit, he thought. He could practically smell the entitlement wafting off her.

“Hello,” she said.

“Hi there.” He waved her to a stool. The rest of the group was coming in behind her, all twenty-something girls displaying various levels of intoxication, judging by their unsteady gaits as they tottered toward the tasting counter in high heels. Tyson took a step back. Drunk people were unpredictable and he wasn’t a big fan of unpredictable situations. He took a deep breath and pushed down the nerves that were coiling in his muscles, making him feel like he was preparing for something. Breathe, he thought. I can handle this. He told himself to just focus on the wine. He’d known wine all his life — had grown up running through the vineyards. Wine was in his blood…it was part of him. He focused on what was in the bottles before him and swallowed his discomfort as the girls settled themselves, giggling and silly.

“What’s your name?” one of the girls giggled as she sat down across from him, raising eyebrows and smiling around at her friends.

The other girls exchanged glances, and soon they were all watching him, waiting for him to say something. Tyson swallowed. Trust me, ladies, he thought. It’s not gonna be that good. There were seven stools and eight women, so one of them — a girl with very dark bobbed hair and fair skin with a sprinkling of freckles across her nose — had to stand. She wasn’t traditionally beautiful, and she didn’t wear as much makeup as her friends. He actually had to try to keep his eyes from drifting toward her. She was exactly the kind of girl he usually found himself drawn to — the kind of girl that didn’t look like she’d walked out of a bimbo factory. Tyson took a steadying breath and reached for his glass, but it was empty.

“Ladies,” he said. “Out doing a little wine tasting today?” Always start with the obvious. This didn’t look like the most intellectual crowd anyway, he wasn’t sure they could handle much more.

They nodded and giggled, and he felt his stomach turn just a little. He pushed the irritation and nerves down and set a glass in front of each girl, offering each one his signature smile, and avoiding the gaze of the dark-haired girl at the end.

“I’m Tyson Dawes, and you’re visiting Redemption Road Winery. I’m guessing we’re not the first stop on your tour of the Yamhill District.”

One of the girls started laughing hysterically, her blond head bobbing. She slipped off her stool, catching herself in a crouch just before landing on her backside on the floor. The girl next to her pulled her back to her stool and the blond pushed her hair out of her eyes. Dark makeup had just begun to smudge around each blue eye. Tyson found himself staring in fascination. She was a train wreck, and yet she was laughing at him.

“Sorry,” she said, still giggling. “Yamhill.”

Tyson looked around the group for help. “Yamhill?”

“She thinks the word ‘Yamhill’ is funny.” The dark-haired girl at the end spoke, her voice low and steady. Something about that voice was soothing. He turned to look at her. She was undoubtedly beautiful. She was fair and slender, and a sense of calm seemed to radiate from her. She didn’t look like she fit with the other girls. Tyson wanted to step down the bar nearer to her. Some instinct within him sensed stability, which had become more attractive than almost anything else recently.

“Audrey,” the blond girl responded, her voice a grating whine. “It’s HIL-arious. YAM-hill. Yam-hill. If you say it enough, you’ll see.”

“Okay,” Tyson said, pulling his gaze from the girl at the end of the bar. From Audrey. Even the name seemed innocent and pure. He pulled the cork from the first bottle. “I’ve got five wines for you today. Do you ladies favor red or white?”

“Do you have anything sweet?” The bride-to-be.

Tyson gritted his teeth. He couldn’t stand it when the sweet wine women came in, totally unwilling to stretch and try something new. He hid his irritation. “Only you, darlin’.”

The girls giggled some more and he winked at the bride as he poured each girl an ounce of Pinot Gris.

He took another steadying breath and began the dog and pony show. “We do have a dessert wine. We’ll taste that one last. This is a Pinot Gris. It’s the same grape you’ve heard called Pinot Grigio, and it’s actually thought to be a mutant clone of the grape that the Willamette Valley is known for — Pinot Noir.”

Laughter exploded from another girl at the end of the bar, next to Audrey. She even snorted a little bit. Tyson clutched the edge of the bar at the sound. “Something funny?”

“Mutant clone!” she cried. “They’re like cyborgs! Like Star Wars.” She continued laughing, slapping her hand on the bar as her friends drained their glasses. One girl was actually holding her glass up in front of Tyson’s face, wiggling it back and forth for more.

He couldn’t help but steal a glance to the end of the bar. To her credit, Audrey looked as irritated as he felt.

Tyson ignored the wiggling glass and pushed his back up against the wall behind him, forcing his annoyance down and pouring himself a full glass of the Pinot Noir Reserve. He downed it in one long gulp.

“You gonna share, Tyson?”

Hearing the drunk girls slur his name only added to his annoyance.

“Of course. My apologies. Your next wine is a Chardonnay. I’m not going to bother telling you anything about it, since you’re just going to down it like a shot of Jaeger anyway.”

The girls exchanged big-eyed glances as he poured down the line. By the time he’d filled Audrey’s glass, the bride-to-be was finished.

“And right on to the next!” he announced, starting to feel almost maniacal. He thought that maybe if he just poured them through quickly, they’d get the hell out and leave him alone. He stole another glance at Audrey, who was looking at him like she was trying to figure something out. Tyson wished she had come in alone. He wished he could just talk to her. Quietly. Without the bimbo show going on at the counter. But he was on a pissed off roll and was finding it hard to stop. “It’s about quantity, right? Who gives a shit about quality, after all? You’re not actually out to support local wineries, are you?” He poured the Dolcetto next and kept right on ranting. “Just shoot it on down the hatch, don’t bother tasting it. That’s not the point, is it? Your goal,” he pointed at the bride with the bottle. “Is to get wildly intoxicated in an effort to forget that you’re about to throw your whole life away at what, twenty-two? To some frat boy you met at a kegger at OSU who probably has no idea that you fucked half of his fraternity before settling on him. And the rest of you are here because you’re doing that thing that girls do so well, where you figure that you can hide your jealousy about your friend’s impending — and I guarantee you, ill-fated — nuptials, by staying close, pretending to be supportive, and trying to figure out all the while what might be in it for you.” Tyson took a pull of wine from the bottle in his hand.

The girls had started standing up, pushing away from the bar.

“Oh, don’t go!” he laughed. “I still have three more wines to pour for you so that you can grace the limo driver you hired with the joy of cleaning your vomit from his leather upholstery after he drives your drunk asses back home to Healy Heights or whatever over-privileged neighborhood you came out here from.”

“You’re an ass, you know that?” Audrey was standing directly in front of him now, helping one of her more inebriated friends off a stool.

“Well, you’re a spoiled…” Tyson couldn’t help himself, and he really wanted to. He watched the fire light in her eyes — she was ready to fight. He realized that he would have taken a fight from her happily, just to keep her there, just to keep her talking to him.

“TYSON!” A deep voice thundered from the back of the room. Tyson spun to find his father walking quickly to the bar. “Ladies,” he said. “I’m so sorry for whatever offense my son has committed.”

The group of girls had stopped just in front of the door, swaying on their feet. The bride was actually crying.

“I want to offer each of you the bottle of your choosing to take home. We appreciate your visit so much.”

“Thank you,” the bride sniffed.

His father’s interference gave him just enough time to cringe at what a complete idiot he’d just been. He turned to Audrey, his mouth going before he really had a chance to think. “Hey, listen. I’m sorry…I…”

“Screw you!” she responded, picking up a bottle of the Pinot Noir Reserve and herding her friends out the door.

Either it was a lucky pick, or the girl knew her wine. Tyson didn’t get much time to consider it because his father’s hand fell on his shoulder and spun him around.

“That’s another eight bottles you just gave away!” he boomed, his face reddening. “Aren’t you getting tired of paying me back every red cent you earn working in here? You’re supposed to be selling the wine, not scaring away and offending the customers. They don’t have to come out here, you know!”

“I know, Dad. I just…”

“You just don’t think. You just don’t care! I don’t want to know what ‘you just’… I can’t keep you here, son, if you aren’t even going to try!”

Tyson wrenched his shoulder out of his father’s grasp and took the seat where the bride had been. He picked up her glass and swallowed the rest of her wine.

“Listen son,” his father started. Tyson hated it when he called him “son” — it meant that disappointment would follow. “I’ve tried to give you a chance — Lord knows you deserve one after the shit you went through over there — everything with your mom since you’ve been home…and Wyatt…But Tyson,” he trailed off and his face softened as he looked at his son.

Tyson couldn’t hold his eyes. He looked down. Maintaining eye contact was not his strong suit. Not anymore.

“Tyson, I need to see that you’re actually trying, that you care about what happens. The way I see it right now, you’re a drunk and a liability. You insult our guests, cost us hundreds of dollars a day between the wine you drink and what I have to give away to make up for you… And that’s only when you’re not threatening guests with raised bottles for startling you. I don’t know how much longer this can go on, Ty. You’re supposed be out selling. That was our agreement. Working the tasting room is one thing, but we need to get the wines into restaurants. That’s where the money is.”

They stared at each other for a long moment, as Tyson tried to figure out what to say. The silence was broken by the door opening again.

Tyson turned to look as Audrey strode back inside. His heart lunged into his throat. He wondered what the hell was wrong with him.

“Shelby forgot her bag,” she said, pointing to the ground under the stool where Tyson sat. A small brown purse sat at his feet.

Tyson stood and picked up the bag, holding it out to her. “Look,” he said, staring at her slim hand as it reached out to take the bag. “I’m really sorry. You were right. I’m an ass.” He looked up into her face, and for just a second, he imagined that he saw a flicker of something in her coppery eyes. Interest? Understanding? “I’m sorry,” he said again, breaking the traction of her gaze.

“It’s fine,” she said.

“No, it’s not,” Tyson’s dad offered from the other side of the bar.

“No,” Audrey agreed, “but I’ve had to spend the entire day with them, so I do know how a bunch of drunk girls might wear on one’s nerves.” She smiled at Tyson then, just one side of her thin sculpted lips lifting. His heart started flipping again. “They probably won’t even remember.” She turned to look at the older man. “And I guarantee they won’t remember the name of your winery.”

She turned and walked back out the door, her thick dark hair bouncing just above her shoulders as she left.

The room felt dead in her absence, and Tyson felt the emptiness that had plagued him for months grow deeper. The room was quiet, and the silence fanned the glowing ember of fear that lived in his gut. He looked around for a drink.

“You gotta turn it around, son.” His father said. “We can’t go on like this.”

“Sorry, Dad,” Tyson said softly, struggling for control — forcing himself not to pour another glass of wine. He didn’t want to let his dad down constantly, but he felt like he’d been two separate people since returning home. One part of him was pure reaction — making judgments and taking action before his mind even had time to engage. The more human part was muted, watching the other half wreck what was left of his life, and feeling unable to stop it. He was a spectator in his own life and he didn’t know how to do anything differently. “I’m trying.”

“I know son,” his father said, coming around the bar. “I don’t want you to think that I’m not happy to have you home. Your mom and I both are.” He hugged his son then, pulling him close to his chest as he sat on the stool. “Clean up in here and lock up before you come up to the house.”

Tyson followed his father’s instructions, drinking one last glass of red, then trudging up the hill from the tasting room to the house under the damp drizzle of Oregon’s dark summer sky.