Juniper Hart has her dream job—or rather, her dream job has her. Under Junie’s management, the winery her late father started is finally getting noticed. But she’s lonely, deep in debt, and overwhelmed with work. Even if she had time to date, the only men she meets are smug, stemware-breaking hotshots like Lt. Manolo Santos, whose good looks and smooth charm don’t half make up for the sour taste he leaves on Junie’s palate.
After years as an army engineer and a childhood in a restaurant kitchen, Manolo can see Junie’s winery is about to go sideways—and he’s bursting with ideas to help. Except Junie’s far too magnetic for comfort. He left New Jersey to escape becoming one more Santos man shackled to a captivating woman and a failing family business. But in the misty hills of Oregon, with a sip of supple Pinot on his tongue, pulling away is the last thing he wants to do . . .
“Between all the rich wine and delicious food dangled so temptingly in front of readers, expect to develop a few cravings while devouring this novel.” —RT Book Reviews
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An Oregon Wine Country Romance
By Heather Heyford
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Heather Heyford
All rights reserved.
Rap rap rap!
Juniper Hart was agonizing over which of her wine business's creditors would luck out and get paid this month when she heard a loud knocking at the door of her tasting room.
Her head shot up from her bills. She scrambled out from behind her desk, heedless of the papers she set sailing. Inches short of the threshold, she skidded to a stop to smooth down her faded T-shirt emblazoned with WE AREPINOT NOIR. From the other side of the door, she heard a familiar voice.
"Last I knew, Lieutenant, you had women in, let's see — Fort Bliss, Fort Belvoir, and New York City. And that's just stateside."
Though the words meant nothing to her, Junie recognized the timbre of her old friend Sam Owens's voice. Sam had racked up numerous awards for his military service before moving back to his hometown. These days, he made a living ferrying tourists around in his Clarkston Wine Consortium van, introducing them to Willamette Valley wine. And now, from the sound of it, here he was, delivering eager wine enthusiasts right into the palm of Junie's hand.
She pasted on her best smile and threw wide the door. "Welcome to the pinot state!"
"Hey, Junie!" said Sam warmly. "Like the new greeting."
"Sounds way better than 'Welcome to Broken Hart Vineyards,'" deadpanned Keval, thumbing his cell phone without looking up.
Junie cringed at the innocuous-sounding nickname. Keval Patel might be the town of Clarkston's god of IT, but he could use some help in the tact department.
But wait — these weren't Junie's desperately needed new customers making a detour off the established wine trail. Despite their chins sporting some degree of hipster stubble, to her, these guys would always be the same fresh-faced, coltish boys they'd been back at Clarkston Middle School. Ever since her dad died and her brother left town, they were practically all the family she had left. All except the one with the Ivy League haircut, dressed more for a job interview at Brooks Brothers than a drive in the wine country.
"Thought you said Oregon was the Beaver State?" the stranger asked Sam, eyeing Junie up and down. "Because, damn ..."
Heath Sinclair's burst of laughter was cut short by Sam's swift elbow to his ribs.
"Why else would I leave a city where women outnumber men to fly all the way across the country?"
"Thought it was to do a brother a favor, Lieutenant." Sam raised a weary brow. "Sorry, Junie. We've done two tastings already, and some of these bozos forgot how to spit."
"I had all good intentions of expectorating when we started out." Heath straightened, still clutching his side. "But I'm a beer drinker. Beer drinkers swallow. It's what we do." Heath should know — he was the founder of Clarkston Craft Ales.
"Juniper Hart" — Sam stretched out an arm toward the stranger — "this is Lieutenant Manolo Santos."
The lieutenant nodded in curt, military fashion. "Pleasure."
"Manolo's a construction guy from back east. Came out to give me some expert advice on the new consortium building."
Junie examined Manolo dubiously. Tall and broad shouldered with a flat belly, it was easy to imagine him in a sweat-stained work shirt, hefting a load of two-by-fours. But the quick gleam in his eye, the pride in his bearing, and his impeccable grooming pegged him as more than just your typical manual laborer.
"Construction engineer, technically," he replied.
"What exactly does a construction engineer do?"
"The official U.S. Army definition?" He flashed her a blindingly white grin. "Someone who works a twelve-hour day/night shift seven days a week on a rotational basis in a remote location."
Sam gripped Manolo's shoulder affectionately. "What the lieutenant here does is solve problems. Converts ideas into reality. Manny's helped design roads, schools, and hospitals from Arizona to Iraq."
"Is that so?"
Manolo shrugged off Sam's compliment like a too-tight shirt. "Think of me as kind of a combination Jason Bourne and Bob the Builder."
"You're forgetting horndog," added Sam, to backslaps and shrieks of mirth.
Junie dismissed Manolo and slanted her eyes at those she knew better. "You guys sure you can handle another one?" They straightened their spines, trying their best to look contrite.
Keval tsked and gave her an incredulous look. "Are youserious?"
"C'mon, Junie. Let us in," pleaded Rory, whose family's apple orchard adjoined Junie's land.
"I'm designated driver." Sam jerked a thumb toward his log-splashed van parked out in the field, some distance away.
She propped her hand on her hip and pretended to consider her options. If not for Sam roping them in, no tourists would ever find their way off the main road to her boutique winery. Junie owed Sam big-time.
When she figured they'd suffered long enough, she broke out in a conciliatory smile. "C'mon," she said, stepping aside.
The men shuffled past Junie into the tasting room in single file, with Tall, Dark, and Sketchy bringing up the rear.
"After you, ma'am."
His baritone was soft and deep. Arrogant eyes the rich brown of espresso made the back of her neck prickle. A man who seems too good to be true usually is. She brushed off her warning instinct, slipped behind the counter, and dealt out five generic white coasters. Those would have to do until the day she could afford to have them done right, custom-printed with her name.
Lieutenant Santos's head swiveled on his neck, absorbing every detail of Junie's humble tasting room ... the unfinished ceiling, the plywood walls, the makeshift bar cobbled together from cast-off parts. The closer he looked, the more inadequate she felt. So what if it wasn't the Taj Mahal? She was doing the best she could.
She kept half an eye on him as he wandered over to the opposite side of the room, where a picture window would be someday, if she was lucky. His every movement was a study in controlled power. Wherever he went, the others followed, drawn to him like bees to a hive. He said something Junie couldn't quite decipher. Whatever it was, her friends found it highly entertaining.
Daryl Decaprio, Clarkston High's most notorious flirt. The resemblance was uncanny.
When the laughter finally died down, Daryl's twin drifted over to watch her work. The temporary bar served only four without crowding. But there was an eighteen-foot slab of live-edge white oak out in the barn just waiting for the right time to be installed.
"You wouldn't happen to have anything to eat back there, would you?"
"This is a wine-tasting room. If you're hungry, there're some restaurants in town."
He raised a palm. "Fair enough. No harm in asking."
She launched into her rehearsed pitch. "So, where're you from?"
"Born and raised in Hoboken, New Jersey. But I left there a long time ago."
Junie busied herself opening a two-year-old vintage. She felt the heat of his gaze travel over her hands, up her arms to her chest, her neck, and finally her face.
"What's a beauty like you doing hidden away in a place like this?" Her hands paused where they struggled against the stubborn cork. Beauty? Her? He didn't just look like Daryl; he laid it on thick like him, too.
Stick to your script, Junie. What had they said at that free class for entrepreneurs at the Yamhill County Extension? She was the one who should be asking the questions. Marketing 101.
She gave the screw a vicious twist. The cork came out with a muted pop, and she began to pour the one-ounce servings used for sampling.
"How long will you be in the Willamette Valley?"
"Not long. I'm a traveling man. Just passing through."
Lieutenant Manolo Santos was a walking, talking cliché, thanks to his good looks and bad lines.
Be nice to everyone, they said in the class. You never know who might turn out to be an ally. She clenched the bottle tighter in her moist palm, determined not to fumble under his penetrating glare, ally or not.
Sam hoisted his glass and the others followed suit. But before he could make a toast, the stranger beat him to it.
"To the Beaver State," he said, eyes sparkling with mischief.
That brought more cautious chuckles, as her friends weighed their loyalty to her against the novelty of the suave newcomer in their midst.
Sam swirled his wineglass at eye level, checking for all the signs: color, viscosity, legs.
Rory downed his glass like cider and followed it with a satisfied belch.
Junie's heart sank. Heath was a brewer and Sam was in the wine business, like Junie. Keval was industry, too, if doing IT for the consortium counted. Was it too much to ask for them to appreciate what she was trying to do here? They'd tried her wine before. They knew word of mouth was everything. That's where sales came from. But they couldn't pass the word on about how great her pinot was if they persisted in chugging it like marathoners on Gatorade. Maybe they couldn't handle three tastings in one day, after all.
"Yummy." Keval licked his lips and picked up a battered copy of Wine Spectator from the bar. "Just think, Juniper. Maybe you'll be in here someday."
Yeah, right. She couldn't even afford to renew her subscription.
At least Sam had the decency to give his wine time to wander around his palate, letting it speak to his taste buds. "Your wine sings, Junie."
Junie swelled with pride. High praise, coming from Sam. But even he couldn't seem to find her a distributor, though he'd been looking for the past couple of years.
True to his word, he spat into the receptacle provided. "Now, how about that rosé?"
Junie poised the new bottle to pour, but there were only four empty glasses on the counter. She skimmed the room for the fifth, spotting it in the hand of Mr. New Jersey.
Thick, workingman's fingers cradled her fragile stemware. Dense lashes brushed against carved cheekbones as he lowered them to gaze at the ruby liquid. Then he glanced up over the rim, catching Junie staring. "Young, bright appearance."
He lowered his Roman nose into the bowl and sniffed, then looked up, his eyes landing in the vicinity of her chest. "Juicy plums." He swirled and sniffed again. "And some other fruit I don't think I've had the pleasure of tasting."
Junie forgot about the bottle she held poised, and it sank to the bar under its own weight. "Lingonberry. It's native to the Pacific Northwest."
Manolo drank then. But all the while he worked her wine around in his mouth, he didn't take his eyes off her.
The tasting room grew uncomfortably warm, despite the chilly April air. Lieutenant Manolo Santos had a politician's command of the room. Even the guys quit horsing around in anticipation of what he would say next.
"Soft and supple, yet structurally complex. I like that."
The breath Junie didn't know she'd been holding whooshed out through her broad grin. This vintage was her most ambitious effort to date, and that was exactly the response she had been going for!
"It's good in a wine, too."
While the guys cracked up, Junie's smile ebbed and her cheeks burned even hotter.
Manolo raised his glass. "To — Junie, was it?"
She glared daggers at him. He may have played her once, but she wouldn't let it happen again. Thanks to her experience with Daryl, she knew better than to trust guys like him.
"Could we, ah ..." Sam motioned to the still-empty quartet of glasses.
Only then did she remember the bottle of rosé she still clenched by the neck.
After she set them up again, her usually levelheaded, sweet friends surrounded Mr. Big Shot.
"To Junie!" he exclaimed, eyes aglow with a fire that disconcerted her, despite her resolve.
"To a promising future," said Sam, with a nod of appreciation for her skill as a winemaker.
The others echoed with woozy tributes of their own.
Testosterone-fueled shoulder bumps were followed by more enthusiastic clinks. "One more?" Heath asked, holding out his empty glass.
More laughter, more rowdy toasting.
Then Junie shrank at the sound of crystal shattering.
"I'll get the broom." She hurried back to her office, adding the cost of replacing the broken stemware to her long list of expenses.CHAPTER 2
Manolo reached behind the tasting room door to relieve Junie of the broom handle she clutched. "I'll get that, ma'am."
"I've got it," Junie snapped. The flame in her eyes would melt steel.
Dammit, he was trying to be a gentleman. He meant well. His behavior leading up to this mess was just his way of warning an attractive woman that he wasn't cut out for the long haul.
His hands flew open to grant her wish, but she wasn't expecting it. The long handle teetered on its bristles, then toppled over in slow motion, drawing their eyes downward.
He caught it mid-fall. But not before he saw the crimson ink on the statements scattered beneath the scarred old desk. What's more, she saw him looking.
Back out in the tasting room, Manolo made short work of the broken glass.
"Where's the trash?"
Mutely, Junie reached under the counter and held out the can. He dumped the shards, then snatched a length of paper toweling off the roll on the bar.
She leaned over the counter to see where he was wiping the last streaks of blood-red wine from the floor. "You don't have to —"
"Sorry." Sam winced. "Can't take these guys anywhere."
"Yeah, sorry, Junie," aped Keval, looking genuinely remorseful.
"Having too much fun," added Rory.
"No," Manolo said, wondering how he was going to make up for his lousy first impression. She must think I'm a complete assjack. "This is my fault. I take full responsibility." He jutted his chin toward the others. "Pulling these guys out of work so I could do a little day drinking."
Sam slapped Rory on the back. "Just wanted Manny to get to know my homies, here."
The woman wiped her palms down the sides of her slim thighs and tightened her lips against a retort.
Manolo put the broom back in the office, then strode behind the bar, lathered up, and offered her his freshly washed hand. "Please accept my apology."
Junie hesitated. Even after she grudgingly took his hand, she kept inventing ways to avoid eye contact. She blew a loose strand of hair out of her eyes and, when that didn't work, shook back her whole shaggy mane ... chewed her lower lip ... looked at anything and anyone but him. Finally, she lifted her pointed chin and glared at him defiantly, as if she saw straight through his pretext.
Blue eyes. No, blue-green, like the turquoise drops dangling from her ears. Thankfully, that earlier wildfire in them had simmered down to a slow burn. Below the plane of the bar, her hand felt capable and strong, pressed against his. He brushed his thumb lightly across the base of hers. While he drew lazy circles on Junie's skin, he recalled the phone conversation when Sam had first told him that the pool of local vintners he'd started was crowding him out of his own house. He needed a real building. Sam's news had only confirmed the buzz back east: that this corner of the Pacific Northwest was fast becoming America's new capital of pinot noir.
From inside the bubble Manolo imagined surrounding them, Junie used her left thumb and forefinger to methodically pry his digits off her right hand, one by one. Short of being under enemy fire, nothing got Manolo's blood pumping like actually having to fight for a female conquest. For the sake of cover, he kept up their light banter while drawing out their private little game of handsies as long as possible. She had succeeded in peeling his grip away once, only to have him immediately retake his lost territory. One honest tug was all it would take to free herself from his covert caresses, if she really wanted to.
"Apology accepted, on one condition. I asked you how long you were going to be wreaking havoc in our neck of the woods."
"Six months, max."
She smiled ruefully. "Looks like I'd better stock up on glassware."
She was a good sport, after all. "Shortest lease I could find," he said.
"That'll be September. The crush. All the festivities start on the ninth this year."
"That's the plan," said Sam. "We need to have the new consortium up and running by then for the onslaught of tourists. Manny took a place on Main Street above the Radish Rose."
"Clarkston's best restaurant." She lifted an approving brow.
Finally, he'd done something right. Truth was, Manolo never went anywhere without first scouting out the area's best places for food and wine. "Speaking of which, what are you doing for dinner?"
Junie's hand snapped back to her side, and the bubble popped. "Working."
He waited for her to explain.
"I wait tables at dinnertime during the week so I can be here afternoons and weekends for customers."
Excerpted from The Crush by Heather Heyford. Copyright © 2016 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.
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