Uncorking the Truth
When the town of Clarkston, Oregon, welcomes Captain Sam Owens home from the service, Sophia “Red” McDonald is first in line. The sassy psychotherapist has known Sam since they were kids, and the grown-up Sam is darned near irresistible. With his abs of steel and those gorgeous hazel eyes, he could have any woman he wanted. Naturally, Red is thrilled when he takes her hand . . .
She’s a modern woman, happy to canoodle with the sexy soldier, no strings attached—until her heart changes the rules. Suddenly, after months of casual hookups, Red finds she wants more. She longs to possess Sam body and soul. But his warrior's heart was wounded long before he joined the service. As a therapist, Red has ways of making him talk. Only if Sam opens up and spills his secrets can they finally have everything their hearts desire . . .
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The public display of affection at Poppy's Café was enough to make even a sensible girl like Red McDonald sink her chin in her hand and swoon.
Lost in each other's eyes, the two lovebirds were oblivious to the furtive glances of the breakfast crowd. The man's hands rested lightly on the woman's waist. Her arms extended straight across his shoulders, hands dangling limply from her wrists, her new diamond sparkling brilliantly in the morning sunshine.
"Take a picture," drawled Sam Owens, sitting across from Red, spreading lingonberry jam on his toast. "It'll last longer."
Red's palm fell to the Formica. She cut Sam a pointed look. "That's a cushion cut, one-point-five carat stone in a platinum halo setting, for your information. How can I not stare? Even if it were just a cigar band, can't you see how romantic that is ... to have found the one? To have that deep down assurance that never again will you have to face the world alone, as long as you both shall live?"
Up at the register, the man kissed his fiancée's cheek. "See you at home tonight."
Home. Red continued to watch her friends and pictured the sleek, glass and steel structure on the bank of Chehalem Creek where Heath Sinclair and Poppy Springer lived. To her, it was paradise on earth. Not because of the impressive architecture. Red longed for a special place of her own. Not just another apartment or mobile home, but the permanence of four, solid walls surrounding her. A refuge where she could curl up at the end of each day, safe and protected from the outside world.
She sighed audibly while the pent-up force of nature across from her devoured his toast in one bite and, grabbing his mug, washed it down with a slug of Stumptown Hairbender.
The bell above the café door clanged and in walked Juniper Hart, making a beeline for the counter. When she spotted Red and Sam, she cut a detour over to their corner booth.
"Hey, you guys." She turned to Sam. "I just dropped off two cases of pinot at the consortium. Your idea for a monthly wine subscription was genius."
Red gave Sam an inquiring look.
"He didn't mention it to you?" Junie asked. "Sam came up with a plan to let customers sign up for two reds and two whites a month from any local vintner. They can either pick them up at the consortium or have them shipped practically anywhere in the country. Their order comes with information about the wine and the winemaker, plus a recipe written by the chef at The Radish Rose."
Red cocked an admiring brow at Sam. "Well. Aren't you the marketing ninja?"
"It's the cross I bear," replied Sam with an air of nonchalance, folding another toast triangle into his mouth.
Red saw right through Sam's cocky attitude. Beneath those taut pectorals beat the heart of a teddy bear.
"There were the usual naysayers," Junie continued. "The ones who said Sam was crazy. But he turned out to be brilliant. Ask any winemaker. Any grower. None of us know what we did before Sam came along."
"Junie, your order's up," called Poppy from behind the register, setting a paper bag and two lidded cups on the counter.
"That'll be Manolo's sticky buns. I bribed him to come with me to meet up with my mom. Glad I ran into you two. Mom's still waiting for your RSVPs. She needs an exact head count. You two and Keval are the only three still in limbo."
Keval Patel, the Clarkston Wine Consortium's god of I.T. And, like Red, a perennial singleton. Put like that, being single sounded so ... sad.
Red pasted on a smile. This was Junie's special time, and she was her sole wedding attendant. There was no time for her own wishful thinking.
"I still can't believe you and Manolo are getting married in two months."
Love was definitely in the air these days. Heath and Poppy were the second couple in Clarkston to announce that they were tying the knot. Of course, everyone had always known they were meant to be.
But this time last summer, Junie was alone and in dire straits. All the smart money was on her losing her vineyard to creditors and moving to Portland with her mother to get a "real" job. And then Sam's Army buddy, Manolo Santos, had come to town and transformed Junie's tasting room into one of the hottest destinations in the Yamhill-Clarkston viticultural area, just in time for the annual fall crush.
"Eight weeks. I know you're both coming. Just do me a favor and pop your replies in the mail so Mom can scratch you off her list, okay? She's making me a little nuts these days." She rolled her eyes. "Even more nuts than usual."
Nothing, not even a prickly mother of the bride, could pop Junie's bubble, Red realized. Her happiness was almost palpable.
She sighed yet again. How romantic.
"Bye!" Junie's fingers fluttered in farewell, flaunting her own stone in its antique setting, handed down through Manolo's family.
And then it was just Red and Sam again. So, thought Red. He hasn't responded yet, either.
A less competent man might simply have forgotten. Not Sam. There was a carefully calculated reason for everything he did, every move he made.
Her cream-colored invitation addressed to Dr. Sophia McDonald and Guest that she carried around in her bag was getting more tattered by the day. Every time she went for her keys or her wallet, there it was, a nagging reminder that she had no partner.
Obviously, Red was going to the wedding. It was the blank line next to, "and Guest" that had made her nibble the edge of a fingernail yesterday, ruining her manicure before it even dried.
"What's your excuse, Owens?"
"It's probably lying in the bottom of my inbox." He studied her lazily, his long, tawny lashes like crescent moons above those shining eyes ... eyes that seduced her without even trying.
If only there were a romantic bone beneath those abs of steel, to go with the charisma.
"Besides, you know what they say. Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce, the other fifty end in death."
"Samuel Owens. That's an awful thing to say."
Sam attacked his omelet, oozing cheddar all over the sturdy china plate. "You know the stats."
Oh, she knew. If it weren't for relationship problems, she'd have no practice. But where was Sam's sense of hope? His optimism? She fought the urge to both slap him and kiss him. How could any man be so charming and so infuriating at the same time?
While he was preoccupied with his breakfast, Red studied Sam's perfectly bowed mouth and slightly crooked nose, courtesy of Rory Stillman's mean fastball freshman year. He was charming, all right. Charming almost to the point of arrogance, if you hadn't known him back in the day — before he was Clarkston's favorite son. Sam was that scruffy kid who came to school with uncombed hair, wearing clothes that looked slept in. He had never been gorgeous in the classic sense. And he had more issues than Vogue. So lately, why did her heart thump like a rabbit's foot every time she was in his presence?
"Omelet's great. How come you aren't eating?"
"I'm not hungry."
How could she tell him she'd begun losing her appetite whenever he was around? And that while it was nothing for her to strike up an intimate conversation with a pure stranger, she'd begun stumbling over her words to Sam, and conversely, giving his words way too much weight?
Sam glanced up from his plate and caught her staring.
Immediately, she averted her eyes.
"Don't tell me you're on a diet."
"No." Not only had Red never been rail-thin, she'd had the humiliating distinction of being the first girl in the seventh grade to need a bra. But that was sixteen years ago. Since then, she'd come to accept — even appreciate — her womanly curves, the same way she was grateful for having inherited her mom's long legs, her grandma's blue eyes, and the thick, auburn hair of her Scots-Irish ancestors.
"Good. I like a woman with something to hold on to," Sam said with wink, smiling around his sticky bun.
Not one woman. A woman. Meaning, any woman.
And that was precisely the problem.
It was all her fault. She was the one who had pursued him, starting the night of his homecoming celebration, when she'd accidentally-on-purpose spilled her Riesling down the front of his uniform. In hindsight, she didn't know what she'd been thinking. No — she hadn't been thinking. It was purely the hormonal response of a healthy, warm-blooded woman at the sight of a hot guy in desert camo.
That is, at first.
For over a year, Red was content to hook up with Sam whenever, wherever. She was a modern woman. When it came to love, she kept her senses. After all, practicality and flexibility were two of the traits that had helped her rise from humble beginnings to the respected professional she was today.
But lately, she felt some deep, seismic shift. An incandescent tingle of joy swirled inside of her at the mere mention of Sam's name. What was worse, she felt like her feelings were written all over her face. It amazed her that no one — not Sam, their many mutual friends, not even Grandma — had a clue.
"I can't blame Junie for the nudge. The replies are due back in a matter of days," Red said, regretting her words as they came out of her mouth. Some modern woman she was. She sounded like an old school marm scolding a student about a late assignment.
Sam spread his palms and let them drop. "Goes without saying that I'm going."
"You still have to mail back the reply card. It's a courtesy to Junie and her mother. A lot goes into planning a wedding reception, you know. There's the food and the cake and the seating plan —"
"They're keeping it simple. I figure all I have to do is remember the rings and judge the number of shots of tequila it'll take to, A, get the lieutenant down the aisle and, B, keep his feet through the recitation of the vows."
"Right. There's the speech. Hope I don't get a last minute case of the jitters."
"You? Stage fright? Not likely. But what about supervising the guest parking —"
"Taken care of. Hired a couple of neighbor boys."
"— and the music?"
"Manny and Junie want to make their own playlist. Already booked the DJ."
"How about organizing the bride and groom's departure from the reception?"
He laughed easily. "Don't worry about me. When did I ever not step up to the plate? What's with you, anyway, Doc? Ever since the fashion show, you're getting as wrapped up with weddings as you are with houses."
They'd worked together on The Brides for a Cause fundraiser earlier that spring, to benefit couples in need. Maybe that was the trigger for all these weird, nesting feelings she'd been having. In the months since the benefit, she'd collected enough ideas on her computer to start a full-fledged bridal blog. And she spent her evenings hoarding even more pictures of rings, her favorite, full-skirted dress styles, and the most painstakingly crafted cakes.
So far, it was an untidy agglomeration. Red was far better at collecting pictures than she was organizing them.
The wedding board might be new, but her assortment of old house pictures had started even before she was old enough to borrow Grandma's car to drive around hunting for them. Last year she'd even rescued a crumbling Victorian from the wrecking ball by bringing it to the attention of the local historical society. Now it sported a fresh coat of Loch Blue with Wild Currant trim, shades from the official Newberg Downtown Coalition Color Palette.
But Red didn't spend her valuable weekends house hunting out of goodwill. She was driven by the concept of home. The very word conjured up a slew of clichés: the smell of warm apple pie in the oven and newly mown grass. She'd sat on the other side of the couch enough times to recognize those as symbolic of an entrenched longing for security that dangled just out of reach of transient kids like her. But that didn't stop her from searching. She was still bound and determined that one of these days, if she just kept looking, she would stumble across the one house that would satisfy her deepest need.
Meantime, she lived with her grandmother, sharing expenses, driving an old clunker. Saving every cent toward the day she finally pinned down her forever home.
Her only indulgence was a regular manicure, though she sometimes forgot to show up for it.
"Maybe you're right. Or maybe it's because I'm maid of honor, and I'm already getting anxious about my responsibilities."
"What do you have to do besides ..." He blanked. "What the hell does a maid of honor do?"
Astounded by his blissful, male ignorance, Red began counting off the daunting list of tasks that had to be accomplished in the next two months. "Go with the bride to her final fitting so I know how to get her into her gown when the saleswoman isn't around. Check off my own copy of her to-do list to make sure no detail falls through the cracks. And then there's the bachelorette party."
Sam's head came up from his eggs.
"Oh. You haven't heard? We're taking Junie to see The Lumber Jack Hammer Show a couple of weeks before the wedding."
Sam coughed on his gulp of Hairbender.
His eyes watering, he shook his head and slurped from his water glass.
"Toast crumb. Does Manolo know about this?"
She lifted a brow and shrugged. "I think so. It's not a secret."
"Isn't Lumber Jack Hammer a little, I don't know ... racy for Clarkston girls?"
"What do you mean?" Red huffed, insulted. "Junie and Poppy and I are plenty racy. In case you don't remember, Cool Pain invited me back to his hotel room after that concert at Edgefield. Nothing happened, mind you. All we did was drink a little pinot and listen to music. But it could have, if I hadn't had an eight o'clock final in Behavior Modification the next morning."
"I'm sure Cool Pain was impressed with your academic dedication. All I was saying is that, in my humble opinion, Junie doesn't exactly seem like the strip show type."
She peered up through lowered lids. "It's called delegating."
"Ohhh." Sam nodded sagely. "Delegating."
"It was Mona's idea." Mona Cruz was a single mom of two who had spent time in Los Angeles before returning to Clarkston and going to work for Sam. "Letting Mona take the reins of the bachelorette party gives me one less thing to do. Mona says Lumber Jack's the hottest act around for bachelorette parties. He's like six-five and totally ripped. We were lucky to get in." Her eyes grew round. "She said one bride-to-be actually left her fiancé for him."
"So much for the rule against exotic dancers fraternizing with the customers," Sam mumbled.
"I know, right?" She giggled. "Kind of sleazy." More soberly, she added, "But fascinating, from a purely behavioral standpoint."
"Don't worry so much, Doc. It'll all fall into place." Sam wiped his mouth, crossed his arms, and sat back against the padded booth. "Live in the present. Isn't that what all those self-help books say? Speaking of which, what are you doing the next couple hours?" His eyes glittered with meaning.
"Looking for that house again." Don't cave. She might be putty in Sam's hands, but she wouldn't be sidetracked today, on her day off.
He smirked. "Again? You're obsessed."
"Maybe it has something to do with growing up in trailer parks," she said.
Their eyes flirted in a mirror memory of harder times, hers of free school lunches and thrift store clothes, and Sam's of somewhat murkier origin.
"You may be happy to go on living in your old office forever, Owens. But I want a real house. And I'm not stopping till I find it."
"Go on." He cocked his head, humoring her. "Tell me what it is about this one that's got you so fired up."
"I've been doing some research," she said eagerly, "and I think there's a good chance it might be the only surviving saltbox in Yamhill County."
"Saltbox?" Sam's eyes grew guarded.
"A style of architecture that's two stories in the front and one in the back," she said, sketching a rectangle in the air with her finger. "It got its name from the lidded boxes the early New England settlers kept salt in. A few of the original Oregon pioneers built them, but overall, they're scarce. They're easy to spot, though, from the central chimney and the long, low rear roofline."
"How do you know about this place?"
A small part of her took note of Sam's knuckles, white around his balled up napkin. But her fascination with the house eclipsed all else.
Excerpted from "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine"
Copyright © 2017 Heather Heyford.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I have read the previous stories of this series, and have enjoyed them not only for their storyline , but because of their deeper message. I have to confess, that it wasn’t till about 1/3 of the way into the story that I got into it. Basically, because from the beginning the couple is already having a friends with benefits relationship without the knowledge of their friends. Red, the female character, changes the rules and of course Sam, the male character, is not happy with the change. All that said the story picks up and , once again, it was the deeper , subplot the author presents, was what really got to me. These are two individuals whose childhood was less than ideal. Even though they have risen above and beyond what would have been expected of them, they still carry the emotional scars. Even more so Sam, a highly decorated ex-military Captain, that was also in the Intelligence side (aka spy) and suffered even deeper scars. This is a story not only about heartaches, dysfunctional families, dementia, emotional scars, but also about hope , faith, and love. Truly another winner from this very talented author/ I was gifted this copy by Netgalley and Kensington Publishing Corp. The opinions expressed are solely my own. 1 like
An excellent book. This story deals with a lot of issues but at the core of the story the message of following your heart and fighting for what you want rang out to me. Sam Owens has seen and experienced a lot in his life. Years of active service got him away from an awful childhood home but left just as many scars on his soul. Sophia/Red and Sam have known each other all their lives. When they start what is suppose to be a no strings hookup everyone is happy with the arrangement. Then Sophia's feelings begin to change and she wants more. Will she ever be able to get through to Sam?? A very well done book with great characters and an excellent story. Definitely a book I recommend.
Kisses Sweeter Than Wine by Heather Heyford Oregon Wine Country #3 Sophia “Red” McDonald and Sam Owens have been friends with benefits for some time when this book begins. Both were happy with the arrangement UNTIL Red started to have feelings and wanted more. Sam is ex-military with PTSD from childhood and his time in the service. Red has a PhD in psychology, has done therapy herself to deal with her abandonment by both parents, and she helps others in her job and any time she has the opportunity. She is a fixer and eager to listen – and she wants to hear what Sam is not saying. Sam is more than willing to be in the moment without talking about his past and yet he really likes Red and he is filled with secrets – one that is almost a deal breaker. Red is a person who dreams and saves ideas and one of her dreams is to settle down in her dream house because she is sure finding “the house” will make everything right – no matter what anyone tells her. Red’s desires and demands for the relationship to progress and Sam’s secrets might destroy what they have…or…dealing with the issues they face may just provide healing and a HEA. Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington-Lyrical Shine for the ARC – This is my honest review. 4.5 Stars
There is a place where the wine flows freely. The people care deeply and the setting is as beautiful as the romances that develop there. It's Clarkston, Oregon, better known as Oregon wine country to Heather Heyford fans. Kisses Sweeter than Wine provides the chance to catch up with old friends and make new ones as well. Sam and Sophia bring modern to an otherwise small town. He's a soldier with a wounded heart. She's an independent woman with no plans to change. Can his broken heart break the walls she's erected around hers? Sweet memories are a priority when a Heather Heyford novel is close at hand.