Nothing gives Liz Crenshaw more delight than walking the hills of her family's winery and tending her precious vines. And nothing frustrates her more than Gabe Barzonni, the handsome, successful and utterly aggravating son of Indian Lake's most prominent farmers. All her instincts scream "avoid," especially when she finds out he's going into the wine business himself. But Liz can't seem to shake him. One minute, he's nosing around her property, the next he's arranging to escort her to her best friend's wedding. Well, too bad. Whatever he has designs onher or her landGabe is out of luck. Now, to get him out of her mind
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Draped like glittering prisms of rubies from a princess's neck, pinot noir, French burgundy and cabernet grape clusters danced in the summer breeze at the Crenshaw Vineyard. In precise rows, the vines ran down the hills and stopped just shy of the valley. Lolling lazily in the warmth of the sun, the grapes were ripening and stretching to perfection.
Liz Crenshaw wore cutoff blue jeans and a white shirt she'd tied around her narrow waist. She drove her ATV, its attached utility trailer filled with compost, among the rows of vines. Long ago, her grandfather had banned tractors or trucks from the fields because their hard rubber tires compacted the earth and kept the rainwater from seeping properly into the roots. Liz made the compost herself. It was organic, like everything grown on Crenshaw land. They didn't use fungicides or pesticides on the grapes, fruit trees or berry bushes.
Liz liked the idea that she and her grandfather were vestiges of a simpler time and way of life. For so long, it had been just the two of them against the world. Sam often joked they were not just related, but joined at the hip and the brain, like Siamese twins. Sam's pet name for Liz had been petite cherie ever since she had been a little girl.
Liz had no problem with that.
She had been born on this land, in the same farmhouse in which her father had been born. Liz had always felt she was a child of the earth. Her grandfather, though seventy-seven years old, was her hero.
Liz rode the ATV to the top of the hill and looked down on the rows of vines. They ran from north to souththe morning sun would strike one side of the grapes, high noon would bathe the tops in light and the afternoon warmth would finish the task on the clusters' horizon-facing side.
Liz inspected each vine with a sharp eye. Her vines were her life, and though sometimes her friends voiced concern that she was extremely single-minded, Liz didn't care.
She lived a life of bliss with her grapes, her loving grandfather and their ever-expanding business.
As she crossed a line of cherry trees that helped to shelter her prized pinot noir grapes from the sometimes brutal western wind off Indian Lake, she noted the plants this year were balanced with the right amount of green leaves. The strong vines and clusters were not too fat, nor too withered from the summer heat. Years ago, Sam had made the mistake of thinking the very rich soil in the valley would produce perfect grapes. He'd learned, sometimes the hard way, that many other factors affected the productivity of the vines. Often the buds froze early in the spring, and if they lived through that, the abundant summer rains that swooped off Lake Michigan could gorge the grapes, the wine from which would be uninteresting and unmarketable. Allowing the grapes to remain on the vines even two weeks past the normal growing season meant both a superior grape and, eventually, high-quality wine similar to that which Liz had tasted in France.
Liz wanted her wines to be the epitome of excellence, to have a taste so rare in America that other vintners would recognize how special her little plot of earth truly was. Knowing she shared that dream with every vintner on the planet did not diminish her enthusiasmit only heightened her ambitions.
Liz took out her cell phone and snapped some pictures of the vines to show her grandfather, who didn't walk the hills or even ride them any longer. Despite his age, Sam was healthy and just as obstinate as he'd always been, but he was slowing down. Now that construction on his tasting room was complete, he preferred to work there.
The tasting room had elevated the Crenshaw Vineyard into the upper echelon of vineyards in Michigan and northern Indiana. Many of the surrounding vineyards outsourced the retail side of their business, selling bottles and cases to tasting rooms in Saugatuck, Douglas, Buchanan, St. Joseph and other coastal resort towns. The problem, Liz knew, was each vintner could never be sure what the "sommelier" behind the counter was trying to sell that day. The person pouring the wine was just as likely to be a college student who would be happy at any summer job. Liz wanted each of her employees to be at least as much of a wine snob as she was.
Liz was the first to admit she was the ultimate control freak. It was a real handicap in life, but she had long ago accepted this fact about herself. She toiled workaholic hours because she believed she knew best how each and every task should be completed. In her mind, only she could do the accounting properly. Only she knew when her pinot noir and burgundy wines had reached their peak age. Only she knew which French chardonnay grapes from which terroir should be used for their champagne. Most important for Liz, only she knew how to talk to the vines and encourage them into abundance.
Last year, when Liz hired her best friend, Sarah Jensen, and Sarah's boss, Charmaine Chalmers, to design the tasting room and sales office and oversee the construction, she'd nearly driven them both to nervous breakdowns over her many last-minute changes. It was a miracle the building was ever finished. To make up for her idiosyncrasies, Liz had given both women two cases of her best wines.
Liz stopped her ATV close to the top of the rise when she noticed several yellowing leaves. She pulled on a pair of lime-green gardening gloves and whisked a spade out of the back of her trailer. She spread her compost around the base of the vines and tilled it in with a hoe.
She took a long slug from her water bottle and glanced at the sky. The sun had moved its apex, and Liz knew she had missed lunch with her grandfather at the farmhouseagain. He hadn't called to remind her or to scold her. Grandpa understood her.
Liz stuck her gloves in a satchel next to the gun boot on the side of the ATV. When she was out in the fields, she toted a loaded shotgun to scare away the coyotes, deer and wild hogs that destroyed the vines. Through the winter she'd frightened off most of the harmful animals, and this spring she'd only seen one coyote. Still, she had to be prepared.
Shielding her eyes against the sun, Liz surveyed her glorious domain. From the rise, she could see across their twenty acres of planted vines and one hundred acres of unplanted, rugged terrain. Looking back to the south, Liz kept her eyes peeled for marauding animals and any sections of vine that might need fertilizer.
"What the " Liz gasped as her gaze landed on the next rise, where her prized French chardonnay grapes were growing. "I don't believe this."
She hopped onto her ATV and switched on the ignition.
When she was still fifty or so yards from the top of the next rise, she cut the motor and let the vehicle roll silently across the valley. The ATV came to a stop and Liz dismounted it. She grabbed her shotgun from the boot and moved forward stealthily.
The movement Liz had seen from a distance was not, as she'd initially assumed, that of a deer or coyote. It was that of a man. He was too tall to be Aurelio, their hired hand.
There was the odd chance that it was Giovanni Fiorinni, an agronomist who split his time between Crenshaw Vineyards and several other wineries up in Michiganbut Giovanni had visited five or six days before. She didn't expect him back for weeks. Perhaps the man was a weekend tourist who had wandered over here by accident.
Liz quickly dismissed that idea. This area was fenced, gated and locked.
She had brought the chardonnay vines from France herself. It was in this precious section of the vineyard that she had placed her dreams of producing champagnereal champagne. The first in the Midwest.
No, there would be no cause for anyone other than her and her grandfather to be on this part of the property.
This man was trespassing.
He was well over six feet tall. His nearly black hair had been precision cut and styled, which told her he probably didn't employ a local barber at six bucks a pop. He wore clean and fitted jeans, expensive-looking black leather cowboy boots and a blue-and-white-striped Oxford shirt.
Was this guy a farmer?
The man dropped into a crouch. It was clear he hadn't heard her approach. Liz couldn't tell what he was doing, but he seemed intent on his work as he scooped up a handful of earth. Still moving forward, Liz noticed he was wearing plastic gloves. Next to his foot was a box filled with some sort of equipment.
This man had a purpose.
He had his back to her as he held a wide-mouthed glass tube of dirther dirtup to the sun.
Liz lifted her gun, aimed it at him and stood her distance in case he made any quick moves.
"Put it down and turn around," she ordered harshly.
The man raised his arms and slowly turned to face her.
Liz gasped. "Gabe Barzonni! What are you doing here? You're trespassing."
Gabe guiltily looked at the soil in the test tube, then flashed Liz a charming smile.
She frowned and continued to glare at him down the barrel of her shotgun.
Gabe chuckled. "Hi, Liz."
She remained silent as she slowly lowered her gun. "Spill. What are you doing?"
"Actually, I came here to check out your tasting room. Very nice. I like the maple wood floors, by the way. Then your sommelier there"
"Louisa," Liz interjected.
"She's very helpful. Said she's from the Champagne region " Gabe smiled winningly.
"I know where she's from," Liz growled. "And you're beating around the bush. Why are you stealing my soil?"
"I wasn't stealing, exactly." He started to smile again, but catching Liz's suspicious glare, he obviously thought better of it. "I was very impressed with the wines I tasted. Very impressed. I followed some other tourists out to the vineyard. Louisa told us we were free to walk around."
"Sure you are. Among the cabernet grapes. Not over here."
"I didn't know," he said. "Liz, can you please put the shotgun away? It makes me nervous."
"Good," she said, though she put the butt end on the ground and held the gun, by the barrel, at her side. "I like you being nervous. Maybe you'll start telling me the truth."
"I am telling you the truth."
"Fine. Then dump the dirt."
Gabe lowered his hands slowly and looked at the tube as if it held gold dust. "I wanted to test it is all. It's a hobby of mine."
"Yeah? Since when?"
"Liz, you know me. We went to high school together."
She shook her head. "Hardly. I'm four years younger than you. I was a kid when your name was being plastered across the sports section of the newspaper for a touchdown or something."
He glared at her. "A lot of touchdowns. We went to state."
"You and I were never part of the same crowd. Okay?" She pointed at the vial. "Dump the dirt."
"Fine," Gabe replied. He reluctantly deposited the dirt on the ground.
"Now leave," she ordered.
"Don't be like that, Liz. Maybe we could go back to the tasting room and you could tell me more about these chardonnay grapes "
"You don't hear so well, Gabe. I want you to leave."
Gabe threw his hands up in the air. "I'm leaving," he said angrily. He shoved his test tube into the metal box he'd brought with him.
"I'm thrilled," Liz said.
She watched as Gabe hoisted himself over the whitewashed wooden fence as if he'd been training for a gymnastics team. He walked past the tasting room and over to the gravel parking lot, got into a black Porsche convertible and drove away.
Liz knew the Barzonni family, though not all that well. She was most familiar with Gabe's brother Nate, a cardiac surgeon, because he was engaged to one of her closest friends, Mad-die Strong. Gabriel Barzonni was the eldest of the four Barzonni boys. As far as Liz could remember, none of the Barzonnis had ever come to visit her or her grandfather.
She couldn't even remember the Barzonnis coming to her parents' funeral. But then, she'd only been six years old, and she hadn't really known the family at all. As far as Liz was concerned, she didn't have a history with Gabe.
His trespassing was more than a little bit suspicious.
Clearly he wanted something. But what? The Barzonnis were hugely successful and owned a great deal of farmland. What could Gabe possibly want that Liz had?
The more she thought about him, the more her stomach churned and her nerves fired with alarm. She felt as if she'd just come upon an intruder during a home invasion. Yet this was a person she knew. Sort of.
She bent down and grabbed the handful of soil that had fallen out of Gabe's test tube. His actions made no sense at all. He didn't come from a family of thieves, and if he wanted to run some kind of local soil experiment, why hadn't he just asked her permission to take samples? She would have been happy to help him out.
On the face of it, Liz had no real evidence against Gabe. She'd always had a highly suspicious nature, and her girlfriends often accused her of being paranoid. Maybe she'd developed the trait after the car accident that had killed her parents. Years of worrying about her aging grandfather and pushing herself to secure the future of the vineyard certainly hadn't made her a more trusting person.
Liz pursed her lips. Intuition told her Gabe was up to something.
She rubbed her arms, trying to push down the hairs that had pricked up as they always did when danger loomed nearby.
"Something tells me I should keep you in my sights, Gabriel."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Reviewed by Chris Fischer for Readers' Favorite A sweet and lovely story. Those are the words that I would use to describe Catherine Lanigan’s book, A Fine Year for Love from the Shores of Indian Lake series. The story follows Liz Crenshaw, the beautiful vintner who loves nothing more than spending time on the land of her family’s vineyard. When she finds Gabe Barzonni, the son of the most successful farmers in Indian Lake, handsome and headstrong in his own right, stealing a container of soil from her family’s land, she is not pleased. Her grandfather had always told Liz never to trust a Barzonni, and Gabe has certainly done nothing to prove that advice wrong. A family secret, a contentious relationship, a play for Liz’s land; all of these elements blend together in this charming story to make a wonderful read. I so enjoyed this story. Catherine Lanigan’s writing flows smoothly, her descriptions are so picturesque, and her characters are so vividly drawn that you will find yourself believing you are in wine country, and that you know Gabe and Liz as if they are your own neighbors or friends. This book would appeal to any reader who is in the mood for a delightful, romantic story that will keep their attention throughout, and one with an ending to satisfy even the most jaded reader. A Fine Year for Love was the first of the Shores of Indian Lake series that I’ve read, and I will certainly go back for more. I look forward to seeing what this author writes next!
I couldn't put it down! I loved everything about this book, from the characters to the plot twists. The way Catherine described the scenery and surroundings of the characters was incredible...I felt like I could actually see what they were seeing! Liz was very believable; the way she handled situations that were well out of her comfort zone as well as the major crisis she faced towards the end of the book were the way I think many people would act. Gabe was interesting. Honestly, I wasn't too sure if I liked Gabe in the beginning or not. "Love" was not in his vocabulary. But, reading the process of Gabe's amendment to that philosophy was very touching to read. This book was very well-written, and the story progressed very smoothly. I loved reading the interactions between Liz and Gabe, especially at the feed store! This being my first "visit" to Indian Lake, I was introduced to many wonderful characters that I assume were in previous books. I briefly met one who will be featured in the next book in this series, and I can't wait to read it!!! ***I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review***