Napa Valley vineyard manager Paige Reynoso is furious. After a six-year absence, her boss—big-city entrepreneur Jake Madison—has returned, only to announce he's selling the vineyard. Paige has always dreamed of buying Garnet Hill, which sits on land where her ancestors first settled, but without the cash, she's out of luck. And then there's an even bigger problem…she has a serious thing for the surprisingly tempting man who's just destroyed her dream.
Jake's in a tight spot. With his other business ventures struggling, he needs cash—fast. The last thing he needs is the too-lovely Paige convincing him the grapes are an effective long-term investment. Or needing Paige herself, whose spirit and heart bring his to life. But as their attraction grows, Jake knows he's not in a position to offer her anything beyond this moment. Because Jake has a big secret…and it has nothing to do with sour grapes.
Each book in the Love in Wine Country series is a standalone story that can be enjoyed out of order.
Book #1 A Kiss of Cabernet
Book #2 A Touch of Chardonnay
About the Author
Pamela Gibson was raised in a small town in Southern California, just a short distance from the Pacific Ocean. She was fascinated by the old Spanish Mission in the center of town and grew up wandering its ruins and dreaming up stories about the people who once lived there. In college, she majored in history and instead of novels, she wrote regional history books, hoping others would care enough about local historical sites to preserve them.
She began reading romance novels while waiting for the birth of her son, David. By the time her daughter, Shelley, came along, she was thoroughly hooked and wanted to write them. But life sometimes gets in the way and she put off her dream while working, first as a newspaper reporter, and then in public agencies.
Today she lives in Northern California's wine country in another old, historic town, writing books and occasionally contributing to the local newspaper. She still loves to walk on a beach barefoot, but has added vineyards in their fall splendor, fragrant bubble baths, and chocolate to her favorite things. Visit her at Pamelagibsonwrites.com.
Read an Excerpt
A Kiss of Cabernet
A Love in Wine Country Novel
By Pamela Gibson, Wendy Chen, Stacy Abrams
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Pamela Gibson
All rights reserved.
"The first sip of a newly opened wine can sometimes taste bitter. Let it sit out for a while, uncorked, and it will mellow." —from Paige Reynoso's tasting notes
Paige Reynoso didn't believe in premonitions.
But the prickling at the back of her neck was certainly caused by the lights blazing from the house at the top of her hill—a house that had been vacant for the past two years.
She shuddered as a sudden chill reminded her that life didn't always respect one's comfort zones. Her Mexican grandmother would have called it a presagio, a warning, a portent of change. But then Nana Reynoso also believed a drop of blood mixed in a soup made a powerful love potion and three crowing roosters heard in the night spelled death.
Paige wasn't dead yet, but she was uneasy. And she didn't need Nana's musings to tell her something was definitely wrong.
Shaking off her anxiety, Paige punched in the gate code at the bottom of the driveway that led to both the main house and her cottage. She pressed on the gas pedal of her aging pickup as the gate swung open. Her cell phone at her ear, she called the estate's elderly handyman, who lived over the garage. It went to voicemail.
"Sam, this is Paige. Do you know why lights are on in the main house? Call me."
The scent of roses, planted at the head of each row of grapevines, drifted in the night. Breathing in the sweet smell usually comforted her, telling her the vines beyond were healthy.
But not tonight.
The Napa Valley vineyard had been little more than fields of gnarled trunks when she first came to work here, fresh out of college, viticulture degree in hand. She'd struggled to bring it back to life, especially the older vines in the lower fields.
Poring over old documents, she'd discovered her mother's ancestors had been the original grantees of this land during California's Mexican period. She had even found ruins of an adobe house near the winter stream that ran along the back property line.
The ties to her past were like an unseen tether. Although the land had been sold in the 1930s, it still felt like home.
She left the driveway halfway up the hill and followed the dirt road to her cottage. Bay, her yellow Lab, greeted her as she drove into her carport, his body a wriggling gyro.
Clutching a stack of pamphlets on grape production, she hurried into her cottage. Thank God the speech she'd given the Parent-Teachers Association tonight at her nephew's school was over. She'd rather face a firing squad than a roomful of bored parents and kids during career night.
At least I didn't sit home alone, like I do most nights.
Bay followed her into the house where she kicked off her sandals. She was heading for the kitchen when her phone buzzed.
"Miss Paige? Can you come up to the house?" Sam's voice sounded shaky, and his breath came in gasps.
"Has there been a break-in? Did you call the police?"
"Mr. Madison's here."
A cold knot lodged in her stomach. Maybe Nana's premonitions were to be reckoned with after all. "The owner of the estate? He never comes here."
"It's him all right, and ... and ... he's ... had an accident."
"What kind of accident? Does he need an ambulance?"
"He said no."
Paige grabbed her keys and ran out the door, her phone pressed against her ear. A sharp stone reminded her she was barefoot. "What happened?"
"I was sweeping, and I went in the house to turn off lights. Honest, Miss Paige, I didn't know anybody was in there. I thought the cleaning crew left them on. When I came down the hall, this strange man came stumbling through the door right at me. So I whacked him with a broom."
"I'll be there in a second." Paige drove back to the driveway and coaxed the truck up the rest of the hill. Why was Jake Madison here unannounced? She couldn't shake the feeling that whatever the reason, she wasn't going to like it.
She parked at the back of the sprawling, one-story Tuscan villa, then jumped out of the truck and sprinted toward the kitchen door. Sam waited for her at the top of the steps. "He's sitting up, but he's still on the floor."
"Get the first aid kit."
Paige hurried into the house, through the kitchen, and down a long hallway to the master bedroom suite. A man in beige slacks and a light blue dress shirt, open at the neck, sat on the floor just outside the door, rubbing his arm. He glanced up as Paige walked in.
She had seen a picture of him once in People magazine, dressed in a tuxedo, talking to a senator at a party in Washington, D.C., his face in profile. The photo had not done him justice. It hadn't captured the strong chin and the thick chestnut hair that curled behind his ears or the dark brows above golden eyes that reminded her of a tiger. He looked up at her warily as she edged closer.
"Who are you?"
"I'm Paige Reynoso, the vineyard manager. What can I do to help you?" She knelt in front of him, suddenly conscious of her wrinkled skirt and lack of makeup.
"I hope I don't need any help, but I haven't tried to get up yet." His voice was deep, rich, and silky smooth, like an aged cabernet. But his tone warned her he was irritated.
"Please don't blame Sam. He thought you were an intruder." She studied his face, alert for signs of deepening anger.
"I don't blame anyone but myself."
"You're okay? You didn't hit your head?"
"Are you sure you weren't sampling the offerings at the local Napa wineries? Those one-ounce pours can creep up on you." A brief, rueful smile rewarded her attempt to lighten the situation.
"I was so busy trying to dodge slugger I didn't watch where I was stepping when the broom dropped." He glanced briefly at her bare feet. "You can ... go back to whatever you were doing."
He struggled to his knees but faltered when he tried to put weight on his right foot. "Guess I need help after all."
Reaching down, she offered her hand to Jake. He took it but still couldn't stand.
"Let's try it this way." Paige moved a small, sturdy table over so he could use it as leverage. She stood behind him and put her arms around his waist, steadying him as he lifted himself up. Warmth and solid muscle met her fingers under the thin fabric of his cotton shirt. She pressed into his back and wrapped her arms around his chest as he stood, lingering just a fraction longer than necessary. The faint scent of cloves made her want to move even closer. A sudden bolt of heat shot through her body. It had been a long time since she'd held a man. She hoped he wouldn't notice the blush that stained her cheeks.
She moved to his side and helped him hobble to a chair. Dropping to her knees, she examined Jake's ankle. When she carefully removed his leather shoe, he winced.
"Your ankle is badly swollen. You should see a doctor to get an X-ray. I can drive you into town."
"I've seen this kind of injury in the vineyards. You need it."
"It's just a sprain. I don't have time for doctors right now." His voice had that end-of-subject tone.
The uneasy feeling settled on her back. He was obviously not here for a vacation.
"Okay. Sam is bringing the ice pack. The kitchen has ice and a towel, but not much else."
"Thank you, but I think I can handle this on my own."
She studied the brows furrowed in pain and shook her head in disbelief. "Are you always this stubborn, Mr. Madison?"
"I'm afraid I am." A smile hovered near the corners of his mouth, revealing a dimple in his cheek. Gorgeous. Paige swallowed and looked at the floor.
She stood and smoothed her skirt. "You'll need to ice this ankle right away. Sam will help you to bed if you need him."
Jake started to say something, but Paige held up her hand. "I'll come by early tomorrow morning to see how you're doing, and we'll start again, shall we? You know, 'Hi, I'm Paige, and you must be Mr. Madison ...' That sort of thing."
"Can I say something now?"
"Are you always this bossy, Ms. Reynoso?"
She grinned broadly and looked directly into his eyes, more brown now than gold. "I'm afraid I am."
His mouth curved up briefly, but the smile was quickly replaced by a grimace as he tried to put weight on his bad ankle.
Paige glanced down the hall. He really needed to see a doctor, but she'd leave the subject alone. "I'll see how Sam's doing. Are you hungry? I have leftovers."
"Thanks, but I had a late lunch."
"I can't even offer you a glass of wine. Here we are on an estate that grows some of the best cabernet grapes in the Napa Valley and there isn't one bottle in sight. Of course if you'd let someone know you were coming, the cellar would have been stocked. I'll bring you some tomorrow," she said.
"You don't have to do that. I'll be fine."
Jake Madison is not a man who likes to be at the mercy of others.
"I'll have Sam bring aspirin with the ice." She pulled a business card out of her skirt pocket. "Call me if you need anything. Your cell phone is charged?"
"Yes," he whispered.
He looked weary and vulnerable, a side he probably didn't show very often. Paige had read he was a self-made man. It must be demoralizing to find yourself helpless on a cold floor surrounded by strangers.
He waved her away when Sam came in with the ice pack.
She gave additional instructions to Sam and lingered in the room until she was sure Jake wasn't going to talk Sam out of helping. On her way out, she stopped in the kitchen and wrote a note for Sam to give to his sister, Jenny. She might be available to help with temporary housekeeping. Jake might be self-sufficient, but he wasn't going to do much with a sprained ankle.
As she drove back to her cottage, she couldn't stop thinking about the sexy, stubborn man she left behind. He'd never shown any interest in the place during the six years she'd worked there. The house was a high-end vacation rental when she first came. But it hadn't been rented in at least two years, and Jake had certainly never bothered to make an appearance.
And now that he was here, why hadn't his business manager arranged for staff? Kevin Lang was Paige's contact for the property, and she had talked to him a week ago. Other wealthy absentee owners in the valley called ahead to be sure their kitchens were stocked and a housekeeper was in place before they arrived.
If Jake wasn't here to vacation, then what was it? Was he going to fire her? That couldn't be it. She made him money. She had a drawer full of letters from Kevin, praising her efforts. Maybe he wanted to put the house back into the rental market. Or maybe he wanted to become a farmer. She smiled as she pictured Jake without a shirt, the muscles she'd felt earlier glistening in the heat of a summer afternoon. No, he was a boardroom kind of guy.
He's not here to sell, is he?
She clamped her hand over her mouth and steadied her breath. Her dream was to own this land. She'd been saving for years for that eventuality, but her balance wasn't even close to what the property was worth. No. He was here for a vacation. End of subject.
After locking up for the night, she discarded her clothes, put on an old T-shirt, and climbed into bed. Tension seeped from her body as she forced herself to relax. Closing her eyes, she relived the events of the past hour, picturing Jake Madison's face. It was a handsome one, high cheekbones with dreamy full-lashed eyes, a broad forehead, and a sulky mouth that sent little flutters coursing through her stomach.
This man had the ability to take away everything she'd worked for. And here she was mooning over him like a teenager.
Mr. Jake Madison, you are a puzzle. Paige liked puzzles, but this one had lots of missing pieces. Tomorrow she would find them.
* * *
Jake struggled to walk on the old wooden crutches the caretaker had found in a storage shed. He couldn't put weight on the ankle, but the crutches gave him enough stability to limp around the room. He'd hoped for a long, hot shower, but he wouldn't get it tonight.
He leaned against the marble washbasin and lathered a washcloth with soap, scrubbing his face and chest. The soap smelled like almonds, reminding him of his father's aftershave. He frowned and hobbled over to the bed where he shrugged out of his clothes. He did not want to think about his father tonight.
The bed looked inviting. It had plump pillows and a thick coverlet in colors of orange, bronze, and red. He generally didn't notice such details, but pain made him acutely conscious of everything around him.
What had Kevin told him when they were deciding how to downsize? "It's a great house, Jake. It's like a secret bank account. When you need money, you can sell it. It's not going to lose its value." He hoped his business manager was right. With a little research, he could easily price the house, but he didn't know much about the grapes. Clearly, they were an asset, but what was their value? He could hire someone to tell him, but he already had an expert on the property.
Jake dropped the crutches to the floor and carefully climbed into bed. The crisp, white sheets smelled fresh and felt cool against his heated skin. The aspirin took the edge off the pain, but he could still feel his ankle throbbing. Of all times to sprain my ankle.
He'd planned to be alone, taking care of himself. He had looked forward to having time to think, away from the demands of the city. Now he'd have that woman underfoot.
He thought he was looking at the face of an angel when she knelt in front of him. When she helped him get to his feet, her long, cocoa-colored braid tickled his neck and firm breasts had pressed into his back. Despite his pain, he'd been acutely aware of her body. And her smile ... It was warm, but with a hint of mischief. According to Kevin, Paige Reynoso was an unusual woman and extremely competent.
Under normal circumstances, he might like to get to know her better.
But this situation was far from normal. He was founder and primary stockholder of two struggling corporations that were still solvent and a property that was no longer a tax write-off. Wolves were at the door, and he needed to think hard about the future.
One wolf's visage came to mind. Sven Jorgensen, his old business rival, was up to something. He'd seen him at a meeting, and he'd gone out of his way to make sure Jake knew he'd be seeing a lot more of him in the near future.
Not if I can help it.
The cell phone on the bedside table rang. He reached over and answered it.
"Hey, it's Carol. You said you'd let me know when you got there." Jake groaned at the thought of his sweet, but nagging assistant, who checked in far too often.
"Sorry. Got busy settling in and time got away from me. Don't you ever sleep? It must be the wee hours of the morning there."
"You had lots of calls today. I told them you were out," she said, ignoring his comment.
"Thanks, Carol. Only you and Kevin know where I am and why. I'm not ready to deal with buyers yet."
"Okay, but remember ... word gets around fast in small towns. Are you sure you have everything you need? I can increase the cleaning schedule. Do you need a cook?"
"I can take care of myself. I still know how to cook, and I can even use a mop."
"Uh-huh. A man of many talents. If you don't need anything further, tough guy, I'll say good night."
"Tell Kevin I'm happy to leave things in his capable hands—and yours, of course."
"Sure you are, Mr. Control Freak," she said with good-natured skepticism. "We'll see how long before you call here."
"Good night, Carol. Get some sleep."
He ended the call and turned on his side. For a second, a wave of nausea reminded him to move slowly, to support his ankle. Or maybe it was the other problem, the one he had only mentioned to Kevin. The one he didn't want to think about. The one that raised fears so strong he was like a man in a room full of scorpions, waiting for the strike.
The vertigo was occurring more frequently. Hell, he knew what this was—Huntington's, the genetically transmitted disease that killed his father. He'd put off the tests as long as he could, knowing once he was diagnosed it would be life changing. Medications to ease symptoms would make his brain fuzzy. He wouldn't be able to drive or make critical decisions. He'd have to relinquish control of his companies.
Excerpted from A Kiss of Cabernet by Pamela Gibson, Wendy Chen, Stacy Abrams. Copyright © 2014 Pamela Gibson. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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