Merlot St. Pierre is struggling to break free from her family name. Her college classmates whisper behind her back that her passion for jewelry design is little more than a hobby, since she'll always have her father's fortune. But Meri is determined to prove them wrong, and with the help of a handsome jewelry buyer, she just may taste her first sip of success-as long as she can hide who she really is...
Mark Newman's family owns a chain of high-end jewelry stores, and he's working hard to get out from under his aunt's thumb and prove he has a good eye and a head for business. He's certain Meri's designs could be the next big thing, but he'll have to convince her that she can use her famous last name to her advantage. As their business partnership takes root, an attraction begins to flourish-but they'll both find that love, like wine, takes time to perfect...
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.48(d)|
Read an Excerpt
A Taste of Merlot
Book Two of the Napa Wine Heiress Series
By Heather Heyford
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Heather Heyford
All rights reserved.
Grinning so hard her cheeks might burst, Merlot St. Pierre wove through the tightly packed crowd to the front of the art gallery, the jingling of her trademark stack of bracelets obscured by polite applause.
When she finally reached the podium, she clutched its clear acrylic edges and paused to commit the scene to memory, her gaze bouncing from face to familiar face. A rare sense of belonging washed over her, satisfying—if only for the moment—a cavernous emptiness inside.
Chardonnay and Sauvignon had even driven down from Napa for the annual exhibit—though not Papa, of course. He was perpetually busy, tied up in the never-ending cycle of planting, picking, and pressing grapes. Savvy smiled maternally, and Char brushed away a proud tear. Though they tried to blend in by hugging the wall at the back of the room, her sisters' expensive clothes and skyscraper heels elevated them to another class altogether. From a casual glance, nobody would've tagged Meri, in her scuffed flats and faded jeans, as their sister.
Just as well.
Meri waited for the clapping to taper off, then leaned into the mic. "To the Gates faculty, thank you from the bottom of my heart for this award. And to my fellow students, our shared appreciation for the craft I hope to spend the rest of my life perfecting fuses us together like one big, extended family."
The kind Meri had always wanted.
And in less time than it had taken to walk to the podium, her speech—and with it, the reception—was over.
Ten minutes later, still basking in the glow of her achievement, Meri excused herself from a small circle of well-wishers for a quick trip to the ladies' room. Hidden behind the stall door, she heard footsteps, followed by a voice.
"Did you see her up there?"
Meri's hand froze at the lock. She knew who that was. Her portfolio storage slot adjoined Meri's. They came in contact almost daily.
"The wine princess? I know. Made me want to gag. But you know how it is: 'Them that has, gets.'" Chelsey. Meri had known her since freshman year. "Still, it's not fair! She doesn't need the accolades. The rest of us are going to have to eke out a living, for real. How does she get the Purchase Prize?"
With shocked dismay, Meri flattened her palms against the door, cocked an ear, and held her breath, straining to hear through the sound of water running in the sink and paper towels being ripped from the dispenser. That first voice belonged to Rainn—like Meri, a jewelry major, except that she was a graduating senior and Meri still had another year to go.
"How do you think? Her old man donated a gazillion bucks to the college."
"Hmph," came another, mocking snort. "Should've guessed."
"Art is her hobby," said Rainn. It was the ultimate insider insult. "Everybody knows she'll never be a real jeweler. Just go back to Daddy's mansion and become a professional shopper."
"Have you seen it?" Chelsey asked.
"The winery? Only in pictures."
"She invited me up one time, over winter break. The pictures don't do it justice. Even if she does keep making jewelry after graduation, she'll never have to make a living at it. It isn't fair. She's taking up space here that could've been given to a real artist. No wonder she calls her line 'Gilty.'"
Derisive laughter rang off the lavatory tiles. Still hidden, Meri cringed and squeezed her eyes closed, desperate for it to be over.
"C'mon, you look fine. It's the last Thirsty Thursday at O'Brien's. Everyone'll be there."
Everyone? Meri had spent last Thursday night hunched over her bench hook, buffing her final project. She'd been invited to O'Brien's once—back in the fall, after her twenty-first birthday—about the same time she'd developed a fascination with the historical uses of gemstones. She'd declined the offer in order to do research. She'd never been invited again.
A door creaked, and blessedly, the voices receded.
In a fog, Meri sank slowly onto the toilet seat. The only sound now was a tsunami of dejection roaring in her head, taking her all the way back to the first time she'd ever felt completely and utterly alone.
Her spindly legs dangled from the toilet, small hands clutching the sides. It was the afternoon of her first day of third form—the lowest grade offered by Lindenwood School for Girls. But Meri wasn't in the bathroom out of any bodily necessity. All she wanted was a private place to think. And maybe to cry. Twelve-year-old Savvy had just been enrolled in her own prep academy and Char, ten, was at a middle school. Before they'd left Napa, her eldest sister had drawn three dots on a map of the United States, so that Meri could see where their new schools sat in relation to one another. When Meri connected the dots, the resulting triangle crossed the borders of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.
Somehow, Meri had gotten through the misery of an endless round of sitting still in hushed offices while grown-ups talked about her as if she weren't there, and then squirming in her hard classroom seat throughout the remainder of the morning, wondering how long her teacher's monologue would drag on.
Being the new girl was awful, she decided. No one had even thought to tell her what time to expect lunch. When the bell finally rang, she felt invisible as she was jostled by chattering groups of girls through winding hallways toward the smell of food that made her stomach lurch, even though she hadn't touched her breakfast. Then it was on through the unfamiliar procedures and smells of the cafeteria line to the entrance of the dining room, her thin forearms straining with the heavy tray of food, eyes combing the round tables already filled with laughing, mostly older students. In the end, she'd had no choice but to take the last seat next to kids who were already deep in conversation about their classes and boys and teachers she didn't know. If that weren't bad enough, she'd neglected to get her silverware, so she had to get up in front of everyone a second time.
Finally she'd found refuge in the lav, the only place where she could sit and sob quietly for Maman and her sisters and the vineyards where they'd spent endless hours playing hide-and-seek among the neat rows of vines, picking handfuls of wilted yellow mustard flowers to give to their au pairs.
Now, twelve years later, in a lav in San Francisco, Meri stared down at her cracked, work-stained fingertips until they all blurred together in her tears.CHAPTER 2
It was Mark Newman's idea to troll end-of-year student shows for fresh blood. While his boss at Harrington's was at least willing to humor him, if she'd had her druthers he'd be sticking with the stale, tried-and-true vendors.
After finding a parking spot, he walked all the way across the Gates College of Art and Design campus, only to find he was at the wrong building and had to cut back. He'd probably miss the speeches, but that was of no consequence. Receptions were for friends, family, and colleagues. Mark was there solely to see the work.
He'd scouted art schools in Chicago, Miami, and New York that spring, and so far, nothing had grabbed him. Where was all the new talent? Maybe Gloria was right, these excursions weren't worth the trouble.
He browsed through the two-dimensional art, the video installations, the ceramics and sculpture, saving the best for last. A leisurely, methodical sweep of the gallery was his way of pinpointing the location of the jewelry display cases, and as usual, he made a game out of it, letting the anticipation build, deciding which case he'd examine first and which he'd save for last.
When he finally got to the fixture in the center of the room, his roving eye came to an abrupt halt at five strands of flat braid connected by a perpendicular clasp. The alternating metals—yellow, white, and rose gold—lent fresh appeal to the simple design. Next to it, a royal-blue card with the words Purchase Prize sat slightly askew, a last-minute addition to the carefully arranged display. The piece begged to be touched, stroked—always a sign of good art. No wonder Gates had elected to buy it for its permanent collection over all the other projects created that year.
Mark looked up, his enthusiasm building by the second. Only a few people remained in the gallery, congregating quietly on the opposite side of the room. Deftly, he tried slipping his fingers into the crack between the lid and the side of the case. Locked, of course. Pulling out his jeweler's magnifying loupe, he bent close, straining to examine the piece as best he could through the layer of glass, to read the name on the hand-drawn tag attached by a silken cord.
Gilty. That was aggravating. He wanted a real name. On the other hand, the craftsmanship was outstanding. He'd never get over what could be achieved with simple tools in talented hands. Retail was his business, but design was his passion. Design, food, and football, in that order.
He let his loupe fall from the black leather thong around his neck and draped his hands possessively around the corners of the wide case, pulse quickening with the thrill of discovery. There had to be someone in authority here, someone with a key.
The reception was really winding down now; there was a growing trickle toward the exit. Mark didn't see anyone wearing a name tag. He went up behind two women who might be students.
"Excuse me." His voice sounded surprisingly calm, given how hard his heart thrummed. "Quick question."
The young women half-turned, their blank faces sizing him up with mild annoyance. Simultaneously, their eyes widened as they turned fully and broke out in cat-like smiles.
"Anything," the shorter, sultry-looking one purred, giving Mark a glimpse of the shiny barbell puncturing the center of her tongue.
Down, girl. Damn. He'd have to wear this old shirt more often.
"There's a mixed-metal bracelet over there with a tag that says 'Gilty.' The Purchase Prize winner. Know whose work it is?"
Their smiles went sour. The one with blue hair and a sleeve tattoo opened her mouth to speak but was interrupted by Barbell Girl.
"No idea," she interjected, eyeing Mark's loupe. "But hey, do you have a card or something? I can ask around...."
"I'd appreciate it," he said, reaching into his back pocket.
"I'm Rainn, and this is Chelsey." Rainn lowered her lids while she drew a lengthy lock of raven-colored hair through stubby fingers, then tossed it back.
"Mark Newman." He peeled off a few cards and held them out.
"Harrington's?" Her smile morphed from merely seductive to blatantly opportunistic, displaying beautiful, white teeth. Individually they were perfect little pearls, but strung together they formed a wolfish grin that was downright unsettling.
"Nice meeting you. If you run into Gilty, have her—or him—give me a call."
He returned to the case, snapped some photos through the glass, and left the building.
He'd already forgotten the two students when he noticed them again across the street from the gallery, heads still bowed over his card like it was the key to the Grail.
He couldn't help smiling to himself. For an aspiring jeweler, it was.
As he walked back to his car, he pulled out his phone and scrolled for Gilty online, but nothing showed up.
So he'd call the school, first thing tomorrow morning.
He brightened with anticipation. Purchase Prize? He'd show them a purchase prize.CHAPTER 3
"I'm not going back," said Meri from the marble countertop where she was frothing skim milk for her vanilla cappuccino on a sunny mid-August morning. She'd made the decision to quit two months ago, right after winning the Purchase Prize and overhearing that unforgettable conversation in the lav. The only thing stopping her from making it official back in June was that she needed access to the Gates facilities until she figured things out.
Meri knew her siblings. Knew that behind her where they sat at the breakfast table, they were eyeing each other in a sisterly conspiracy over their bowls of yogurt. But the roar of the espresso maker made it impossible for them to mount their objections just yet.
Meri added the perfectly microfoamed milk to her cup and braced herself to join them. The always-serene Savvy spooned some of the melon that had been sliced earlier that morning by Jeanne, Papa's devoted cook, into her bowl, silver ringing off crystal. She took a sip of tea, replacing the porcelain cup gently in its saucer.
"What do you mean? Of course you're going back."
Sauvignon was the oldest. An attorney. Always sticking to convention, following the rules.
"No, I'm not. It's my decision."
"But why on earth not?" chimed in Char. "You only have a year left. Your senior year!"
"You're doing so well," Savvy added. "You won the Purchase Prize. Your work was singled out. It's exceptional. You're exceptional."
Meri had thought this through and she had it down. She knew the best argument to sway her sisters. "But you two are home now, and for the first time since we were little, we're all together again. It's what I've been waiting for for years. Don't ask me to leave."
"But we've graduated, and you haven't," Savvy said logically.
Meri leaned in for emphasis. "I'm not going." Then she sat back, took a sip of her coffee, and folded her arms.
"Meri, what is it? Why in the world don't you want to finish your BFA?"
"I've learned all there is to learn at Gates."
Two pairs of brows knit together in a joint show of skepticism.
"Is that all you're having? Here, how about some fruit." Chardonnay began spooning chunks of cantaloupe into a clean dish. Typical middle child ... always trying to maintain harmony. "Did something happen at Gates?"
The voices of her classmates rang through Meri's ears. "She made me want to gag. But you know how it is: 'Them that has, gets.'" Ever since that day, those words had been plastered in one-hundred-point font on the walls of her brain.
"Nothing happened," she lied. Telling her overprotective sisters would only cause them pain. "I'm just. Not. Going."
"What about your art?" asked Savvy.
"I didn't say I'm going to give up art." Her optimism bobbed to the surface. "I can make art without a degree. I know what I'm doing. The Purchase Prize proves it. I've learned all the basics. Mostly what they're doing this year is marketing and stuff."
"But marketing's important!" said Savvy. "You can be the most talented designer in the world, but you have to know how to sell yourself."
"I've got an idea for a website. A little online boutique."
Her sisters smiled with cultured civility. But Meri wasn't fooled. Her defenses were primed for their next volley.
"Without a studio, how are you going to make the jewelry that goes on your website?" asked Savvy.
Meri took another sip of her skim cap. She hadn't touched her melon. "I want to open my own atelier."
"Pardon?" asked Savvy, her r coming from the back of her throat. Her accent—like that of all the girls'—was dead-on.
"A workshop," Char translated unnecessarily, in her enthusiasm for making sure everyone was always on the same page.
"All I need is a little place I can work out of." Meri got up and padded in bare feet across the Spanish tiles to a cabinet. "Something with electricity, a sink, and good ventilation."
"Where're you going to find that?" asked Savvy, taking another sip of tea.
"I don't know yet," she said, returning with a scant handful of almonds. "I haven't really started looking." The truth was, she didn't have a clue where to begin. But there had to be something out there. The St. Pierres lived less than an hour north of San Francisco. There must be dozens of possibilities. She just didn't know where any of them were.
"What will Papa say?" Char fretted.
"He won't say anything! He won't even care!" Meri's bravado abandoned her, while her anxiety, never far from the surface all summer, returned full force. What Papa would say was exactly what had been nagging her since June. And now August had come, and she couldn't hide from it any longer.
Char got up from the table to slide an arm around her. "It's all right."
"You know Papa," Meri cried. "He doesn't pay any attention 'til our hair's on fire, and then he practically drowns us trying to put it out."
Char gave her a squeeze while the kitchen fell silent. Even her sisters couldn't deny it. The whole of their tangled lives, the three had been alternately pushed and pulled, ignored and controlled. The shared experience had lashed them together tighter than a French braid.
Excerpted from A Taste of Merlot by Heather Heyford. Copyright © 2015 Heather Heyford. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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