We took the scenic route on the Pacific Coast Highway from Monterey to Big Sur, then on to Cayucos. It added nearly an hour to our drive, but the views were worth it.
Jamie drove a blue 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS Convertible, with white stripes on the hood and ivory leather seats. Bobby Darin’s hypnotic voice crooned over the speakers about the difference a day made as I snuggled in close, dozing pleasantly on the winding curves of the magnificent coastline.
I began to feel foolishly excited when I saw a sign that said Cayucos was only four miles away. As much as I had been denying it, I was fairly certain the man next to me was becoming an inexorable part of my future, be it a product of divine intervention or his own stubborn will. And if he was to be a part of my life, then so was his home, and I was vastly curious about what my future held.
“Wait. You’re turning here?” I said, seeing clearly that he was heading in the opposite direction of the small beach town. The signs said we were heading toward Paso Robles.
“I need to pick up a few bottles of wine, if ye dinna mind. It won’t take long.”
“Cayucos doesn’t have a market?”
He just smiled in that mischievous way of his and kept on driving.
It became apparent very quickly that we had taken a hard left into wine country. Sunshine burned through the overcast clouds and landed on miles of rolling hills covered in grape vineyards. Every half mile there was a turnout to a new winery, but knowing Jamie, he wouldn’t stop until he reached the best one.
After about ten minutes, he turned right on Old Creek Road, and within moments, we found ourselves on a long driveway that led to a gorgeous winery. It was built in a Spanish architectural style commonly seen in California’s coastal towns.
It was breathtaking on its own, but it was the large sign with the winery’s name that had me positively giddy. I gripped Jamie’s hand and bounced excitedly in my seat. “It’s St. Claire!”
“Aye,” he beamed. “Come, Sassenach. Ye can pick whatever bottles ye like.”
He parked right in front of the building like he owned the place and brought me in through a set of large glass doors. I looked around at the tall ceilings and grand design and couldn’t help the breathless laugh that escaped my lips.
“What’s so funny?” he asked.
“No wonder you take your wine so seriously. If I popped down the street to a place like this to purchase mine, I’m sure I’d develop a healthy respect for it too.”
He laughed and took my hand, leading me through the busy tasting room and into the shop beyond.
“Hello, Mr. Fraser,” said the gentleman at the register. Apparently, Jamie was quite the regular.
Jamie just gave a warm wave and steered me over to the main display. “What’s yer pleasure, lass? There isna a wide variety of grapes grown here, but every bottle produced is of the highest quality. Ye’ve tried the sparkling rosé of pinot noir and the traditional red, as well. Ye havena had the sparkling brut, the sauvignon blanc, nor the cabernet sauvignon.”
“And you think I’m capable of picking just one?”
“Mmmm. I kent I was fond of ye, lass.” Jamie turned to the man at the register. “Kenny, would ye mind boxing up a few of each and stowing them in the Chevelle?”
“Yes, sir. I’ll do that now,” he responded, as though receiving marching orders.
“Thank ye, lad.”
I stared up at Jamie and noticed more of a stiffness in his shoulders than what I’d been used to since we met. He stood taller, held his chin firm and high, and his chest looked as though it was about to pop the button on his shirt. I must have been catching a glimpse of Colonel Fraser.
“Here, Sassenach,” he said, pulling me toward a display of shirts with the St. Claire label on the front. He knew my size from our first night in Spanish Bay, so he sifted through the stack until he found one that would fit. “Just in case I forget yer name.”
I smacked him on the arm, knowing how unlikely that would be.
“Oh!” I said, distracted by a gorgeous set of wine glasses with the St. Claire label. They were clearly hand-crafted, as no two were the same. The words were brushed on with elegant calligraphy without being too over the top, matching the aesthetic of the St. Claire brand perfectly.
“Ye like them?”
“Very much.” I was just about to reach for one to see the price, but Jamie took a box from the display and tucked it under his arm.
“I can’t let you do that. You’re already buying all that bloody wine.”
He snorted and wrapped an arm around my shoulders to lead me toward the front of the building.
“You’re not going to pay for that?” I asked.
“I already have.”
“What do you mean?” I stopped him in the middle of the tasting room. “Jamie?”
His eyes smiled playfully, and he scrunched his nose with humor. “It’s mine, Sassenach. All of it.”
I looked around and then back at him. “What?”
“I own the place. I bought it shortly before I retired. John was trying to convince me to move out here, and when it came up for sale, he called me and demanded I buy it.”
“It’s yours?” I looked at the St. Claire sign on the wall. “This whole bloody time, you’ve been pouring your own damn wine down my throat?”
“I supplied the rosé to Willie and Jane as a wedding gift. And I always carry a few extra bottles around in the Chevelle.”
He cupped my cheeks in his hands, towering over me with his ridiculous height. His eyes were soft and a little nervous. “It pleased me greatly how much ye liked the wine. It’s what I spend most of my time doing now. It’s the reason I brought ye here. I wanted to show ye, to have ye see wi’ yer own eyes what my life is like, because I intend to make you the center of it from now on.”
I wrapped my arms around his waist, truly moved by his thoughtfulness. “It’s no wonder the wine is so delicious. It’s been crafted by you.”
“Weel, I have vintners and viticulturists who do most of the work, to be honest. I dinna want to be tied to the place all the time, no’ at my age. I want to travel, laze about on the beach, and maybe spend some time in the Bay Area, sniffing around a certain surgeon.”
“This sounds perfect for you.”
“Aye. All that was missing was you.”
I reached up on my toes to kiss him chastely, mindful that we were at his place of work. He deepened the kiss with his unrestrained enthusiasm.
“Will you show me around? I’d love to see the place.”
He looked like I just made his every dream come true. “Come. We’ll start in the cellar.”
Jamie’s house was right on the beach. The walls were made up of windows, overlooking the blue water and soft sand. A large cypress tree grew in the front yard, surrounded by green grass and wild succulents, a symbol of comfort and longevity.
I was in love. In love with the scenery, with the house, with the winery…and if I was being honest…with the man.
I’d had some time to think since finding out Jamie owned St. Claire. I thought of the first night we met, when he’d sailed out to Lover’s Point. I thought of John commenting on the “bloody marvelous pinot noir” they were drinking before Jamie set sail. I thought of finding the bottle of St. Claire floating in at Lover’s Point the next day. Of the note inside where a mother was wishing her son well in love and life in the days before his deployment. I thought of Colonel Fraser and his fascination with my necklace, of his utter joy that it had found its way to my neck.
“Try the cab, Sassenach,” he said, coming out to me on the balcony with a bottle and two glasses in hand. We sat together on a rattan loveseat, listening to the waves crash on the shore and savoring the warmth of the cabernet.
He hadn’t shaved since the wedding, and a two-day-old scruff peppered his chin with red and white. A single lock of hair curled at his temple in the sweetest way, and I longed to see him grow it out.
“When were you going to tell me?” I asked, smiling softly to take the accusation from my tone.
I pulled the necklace from my shirt and fondled the pearls. His mouth curved in a sheepish smile.
“Soon. Though I didna want ye to feel pressured by fate or any such thing to fall in love wi’ me. When did’ye figure it out?”
“When you told me the winery was yours.”
He stared down at the pearls with heartbreaking fondness, then looked up to me with the purest affection. “They were my mother’s.”
I had figured as much, but stayed quiet to let him tell his story.
“She gave me the pearls shortly before she died. My mother’s greatest joy in life—aside from her children—was my father. She loved him madly from the moment they met until long after he died. Their love was passionate, committed, enduring.”
“The love you spoke of when we first met. You said the infatuation was present until the end.”
“Aye. They were fools for each other.” He reached out and touched the necklace. “She wanted the same for me. She kent I wanted it just as badly, so she wrote me the note, warning me not to give my heart to someone unworthy.”
“That’s why you never married?”
“Aye. And about five years ago, as I was nearing retirement, I began worrying about what life would be like when I no longer had the distractions of work.”
He laughed. “Something like that. Then John convinced me to buy the winery, and I hoped I’d find fulfillment making something I loved. And I did…but it wasna enough.”
He closed his eyes and drank deeply, breathing in the salty air as the wine sat on his tongue. “At Willie’s rehearsal dinner, John and Hector were hassling me about bringing a lass to the wedding. Any lass, they said. They thought me a fool for waiting for the perfect one, and I was beginning to believe them. Over the years, I had begun resenting God for withholding my great love from me, and in that particular moment, rage got the better of me. I took the bottle off the table and marched outside to find someone to take me out to sea to face God Himself, so I could throw my mother’s lost hopes and my broken dreams in His face.”
“That’s why you went to Lover’s Point?”
“Aye. It’s a spiritual place, ye ken.”
I nodded, remembering the story.
“I shoved her note and the necklace in the bottle and launched it hopelessly out to sea, cursing God and spiting him for withholding the one thing in life that truly mattered to me.”
He set his drink aside and turned toward me, cupping my cheek with his great big hand. “Then I stumbled on the docks, sick to my stomach from the waves at sea—”
“And the alcohol?”
“I’m a Scot, Sassenach,” he scoffed, offended I even suggested he couldn’t hold his wine. “I dinna like boats.”
“That’s why you didn’t go into the Navy?”
“Aye. So, as I was saying, I stumbled onto the docks, vomiting my guts out, and lo and behold…God places an angel right in front of me.”
I snorted. “And you had just thrown away your mother’s necklace.”
“Aye,” he grumbled. “I was thinking as I watched ye drive away that God had a very sick sense of humor.”
“You know, the only reason I even went to Lover’s Point the next day was because of you. I hadn’t even heard of the place before.”
“And then ye found the necklace.”
“I did. I wore it to the wedding.”
“Did’ye now?” he grinned. “I thought perhaps losing the necklace was a sacrifice I had to endure to earn yer love, but ye were wearing it the whole time?”
“It didn’t feel right to leave it behind. I couldn’t explain it at the time.”
“It was pulling ye to me. I ken it now.” He wrapped the necklace around his hand and pulled me closer, lips softly brushing mine.
My heart was thudding in my chest, racing at the thought of God demanding Jamie and I find each other. “What must you have thought when you saw me wearing it last night?”
“I knew, I fucking knew ye were mine. I knew the first time I saw ye, and I knew again when ye told me yer name...”
“St. Claire,” I snorted.
“Aye. But as much as I knew in my heart, it was seeing you wear the necklace that sealed the deal for my soul. There was no way in hell I’d lose ye again after I saw those pearls on yer neck right where they were meant to be.”
“And here I thought you just liked my dress.”
“It was a very fine dress.” He kissed me again.
“It does feel a bit like divine intervention, doesn’t it?”
“Even if it’s all just a massive coincidence, I’m glad it happened just as it did.”
He kissed me in a way that told me whatever it was between us was something far more than happy circumstance.
“I suppose I should give Dunsany a call,” I said, when we finally came up for air.
“To decline his offer. It would be foolish to accept the position in San Francisco when I’ll likely be looking at hospitals down here in the next couple of years.”
“Ye can see yerself here, Claire? I ken it’s early, but ye can see yerself being happy here…wi’ me?”
“It’s like you said, Jamie, finding you…” I pressed our lips together, eyes open, finally understanding why he couldn’t bear to close them when we kissed, “it’s as though life makes sense in a way it never did before.”
“I love ye, my Sassenach, and I kent it from the moment I saw ye.”
And I knew I loved him too.