Authors: Gemma Brocato
Table of Contents
RISKING THE VINE
Romancing The Vine Series Book One
SOUL MATE PUBLISHING
RISKING THE VINE
Cover Design by Leah Kaye-Suttle
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, business establishments, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Published in the United States of America by
Soul Mate Publishing
P.O. Box 24
Macedon, New York, 14502
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
For Janna MacGregor
Your excitement for this project
and my other stories,
and your friendship
is greatly appreciated.
Without help from many quarters, this book might never have happened. My family: Mr. Gemma, and my two children, Erin and Andrew. You support me and cheer me on and remind me of the good that happens when you share a great love.
My editor, Char Chaffin whose patience, humor, scolding, and mentoring as we worked on this story certainly qualifies her for sainthood.
Special thanks to Cherie LaDouceur Lord, Amy Lee Burgess, and Amy Barber. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your beta reading input.
And thanks to The KickAss Chicks and my Sassy sisters: you are all strong, inspiring authors. I want to be just like you when I grow up.
Within seconds of slamming the gearshift into
, Jacqui Bishop turned the key in the ignition, plunging her world into silence just as the
Dragons started singing about failed dreams and demons. The sudden hush was broken only by birdsong from the towering oaks shading the lot.
Team Vino. What kind of name was that for a team building camp? She squinted out the window, peering at the Victorian structure at the end of the flower-lined path. The wraparound porch and white clapboard siding were perfect foils for the tall windows marching across the first and second stories. A placard next to a side door read
. To her right stood a nicely landscaped pole building with a cheery red awning proclaiming it as Winery and Gift Shop.
This would be her home for one week. Her employer’s idea, sending her here to learn how to lead the fifty-person admin department for the medical billing company where she’d worked for the last three years. Once she completed this course, they had to promote her. Her boss had promised as much before she’d agreed to attend the seminar. Or camp, or whatever they were calling it.
Most of the other staffers in her department already sought her out for answers on the tougher questions. Before she left her condo in Oregon this morning, she’d fielded three urgent phone calls because the other candidate for the promotion, Deidre Fleury, had effed up—no surprise there—and opted to hide behind closed doors rather than fix her mistake. Probably playing Trivia Crack.
Once Jac had landed in San Francisco, there were a half dozen text messages from her co-workers. Deidre had finally surfaced and was providing implausible answers about a snag they’d run into with a client. Jac had the issue resolved with two fast phone calls.
How the woman was being considered for a promotion was a mystery. Well, not so much a mystery since Jac knew nepotism had reared its ugly head when they’d hired the woman. Deidre was related to the owner. Jac had worked her way up the ranks, despite not being a relation.
And while she still fumed about being sent on this fool’s mission disguised as a training exercise to advance her career, Jac
charmed by the mansion. She’d secretly welcomed the chance to spend time at this vineyard in northern California. She’d practically grown up on her grandparent’s herb farm outside of Eugene. The family still owned four hundred acres in the Willamette valley. Her cousin had moved in after Gramps had passed away. Jac hadn’t seen the place in over a year, but with just her first glimpse of Team Vino, nostalgia for summers spent on the farm flooded her.
She gathered her purse from the passenger seat and exited the rental, the door handle cool under her palm despite the warmth of the early autumn day. Stepping from the car, the pea gravel underfoot dug into the soles of her shoes, causing her to hasten across the lot toward the main house. Checking in this early, she’d have plenty of time to explore the grounds before the sun set.
Her high heels clacked on the wooden porch as she crossed to the door. Inside the house she paused, temporarily unable to see in the sudden dimness. She pulled off her sunglasses before stepping through the doorway to the office.
The woman behind the desk offered a tentative smile. “Hello. May I help you?”
“I’m Jacqui Bishop. I’m here for the team building program.”
“Ah! Welcome. I’m Jules Capelli.” The woman’s grin lit her face and illuminated her sky blue eyes. She stood and extended her hand in a hospitable way. “You’re here from MedServices in Medford, right?”
Grasping the woman’s warm hand, Jac felt immediately at ease. She smiled. “Guilty.”
“You say it like it’s a crime.” Jules laughed and shook her head, setting in motion the honey blond ponytail captured beneath her ball cap.
Jac glanced around the cozy office. French doors dominated one wall and stood open, allowing in a gentle breeze and a generous amount of sunlight. “I work in a cube farm with fluorescent lighting instead of natural light. And we have less than two hundred sunny days a year. I’d say criminal fits.”
“Well, you’ll get plenty of sunshine this week. The weather is supposed to be clear. Temps in the low seventies. A little unusual for this time of year, but certainly welcome.”
“Keep the humidity down and I might just have to move here.” Jac played with the stem of her sunglasses. Yeah, she’d be happy to live here instead of a claustrophobic city. “I, uh . . . need to get my bags from the car. Do you have paperwork for me to sign?”
“Give me the keys and I’ll have my assistant grab them for you.”
“You don’t have to. I can carry them.”
“Part of the service. We do it for everyone, even the guys.” Jules scooped up a walkie-talkie from the desk and keyed the mic. “Marcus, we have a guest.”
“Be there in a few,” a deep voice crackled.
“Thanks.” After setting the black plastic device back in the cradle, Jules grabbed a stack of file folders. She thumbed through them, pulled one folder out, and replaced the rest of the pile neatly in the stand. “Here you are.”
Here I am all right. Why me
? Jac hunched her shoulders and tipped her head from side to side to pop her neck. The creaking served as a reminder to quit clenching her jaw. She should be excited about the prospect of her impending promotion. Why was it so difficult to drum up enthusiasm?
Jules slid a form across the desk and handed her a pen. “This is the registration form. Sign there on the dotted line at the bottom.”
Jac scrawled her signature and nudged the paper back. “Now what?”
“Now I give you the itinerary for the week.” Jules’ lips pursed as she studied the forms in her hand. “Typically, a company sends several attendees to the program, however you’ll be the only one here from MedServices.”
“Is that a problem?”
Jules leaned against her desk. “Not really. We have another singleton, so we’ll pair the two of you. He’s from Medford, too. Luca Rossi. From St. Simeon Medical Center. Do you know him?”
“I do. I’ve met him socially a few times.”
Actually, her best friend Bella Robins worked in Human Resources at the hospital. She’d been enamored with the chief operating officer for the medical center since he’d joined them, six months ago, claiming he could eat crackers in her bed anytime. Too bad about Bella’s pesky live-in boyfriend.
Jac’s lips quirked up. Rossi
delicious, as she’d seen when she’d accepted Bella’s invitation to a happy hour gathering of her co-workers. Jac had experienced an instant attraction to the man. Unfortunately so had at least a half-dozen other women present. Although Luke had bought her a drink, another woman had dragged him away before they were able to get better acquainted.
“He hasn’t arrived yet, but he should be here by dinner. We’ll eat together as a group. The exercises start tomorrow.” Jules pulled open a cabinet next to the desk and retrieved an old-fashioned skeleton key. “If you want to leave your car key on the desk, I’ll give you a fast tour and show you to your room. Marcus will deliver your luggage shortly.”
Jac followed the proprietor through the lower level of the house, exclaiming about the Tuscan style décor in the dining room and the bookshelves in the media room. She barely contained her joy over the comfortable seating on the screened porch on the side of the house.
The view of the avenues of vines sprawling up and down the gentle rises in the vineyard stole Jac’s breath. “Oh, my God! How do you get any work done with this view?”
“It is nice, isn’t it?” Jules paused at the foot of the grand staircase in the foyer and glanced out through the open front doors. Her brows drew together in a brief frown. “But where you see stunning beauty, all I see is work, work, work.”
She finished on a laugh, so Jac figured it was safe to assume Jules didn’t really mind the daily labor she invested in her property. Without a single high-rise building to block the pastoral view, Jac contemplated chucking her life in Medford to the curb and moving to Gramps’ farm. Except she didn’t really have the first idea of how to live an agrarian lifestyle. Maybe this week she’d learn some of what she needed to know.
Or not. There was a promotion to look forward to. She’d dreamed of it for the past three years and it was so close now, she could visualize herself in the office with the big windows overlooking downtown. Now, considering the natural beauty sprawling away from the mansion, she doubted even the prestige of a new title would ever compete with this panorama.
Apples and oranges, really. Jac shrugged and climbed the stairs behind Jules, her steps muffled on the thick carpet runner in the hall as they progressed toward her assigned room. Jules kept up a running commentary the entire time.
“Here you are, number twenty-five. It was redecorated recently, and has great views. I think you’ll find it comfortable.” Jules twisted the key in the lock and opened the door.
Jac gasped. “Oh, it’s lovely.”
A pale green comforter covered the queen-sized bed. Dark gold curtains complemented the spread. The windows stood open and the lace inset of the draperies fluttered in the fragrant breeze. An antique carpet with a navy, gray, and green pattern stretched from under the bed, hiding the wide-planked hardwood floor.
The tang of ripening fruit wafted in the window. “Do you have an apple orchard on the property?”
“You have a good sniffer. You can’t see it from here but we do have a small stand of apple and olive trees.”
Jac dropped her purse on the desk and moved to the window. There, she discovered another stunning vista, more of the vineyard, and a small house situated under several oak trees and next to a brook. A worker in paint-splattered coveralls walked out the front door carrying a power saw. “I love the little cottage. Who lives there?”
Jules moved next to her, a proud look on her face. Another worker exited the house, dragging a large piece of canvas behind him. When she spoke, her voice resonated with emotion. “No one right now. But I will be as soon as the remodel is done.”
“Yeah.” Her expression revealed satisfaction, before she seemed to give herself a shake. She pointed to a door on the right. “Okay, bathroom’s through there. Let me know if you need toiletries or extra towels. You have the afternoon free and dinner will be at seven this evening. Breakfast buffet opens at half past seven tomorrow. Program activities begin at nine.”
“Is it okay to wander in the vineyard?”
“Absolutely. The only area off limits is the distillation area. For sanitary reasons. There’s a map in the office of the vineyard, if you want to pick one up and take a walk.” Jules flashed her a grin. “Just be back in time for the team dinner. Do you need anything else?”
“A Wi-Fi password?”
, all lower case.” Jules crossed to the door, pausing by the bedside table to lay down the key. “I’ll see you at seven.”
The door shut with the heavy
of a solid wood panel, so unlike her condo’s hollow metal doors that had been painted to look like wood. Jac spun in a slow circle, taking in the peaceful sense in the room. Yeah, this might be work, but it was certainly more restful than her everyday cubicle. No constantly ringing telephones, no shrill laughter from people goofing off in the break room, which was so far from her assigned desk it shouldn’t matter, but it did.
And she wasn’t going to miss the constant throat clearing from Allergy Allen, who sat on the other side of the upholstered wall from her. Even her white noise machine couldn’t drown out the incessant, annoying hawking sound.
This was going to be a very nice respite from her everyday work. She kicked off her shoes and flopped on the bed, squirming on it until she’d snuggled comfortably atop the pillow-like mattress. She closed her eyes and envisioned the office she’d eventually move to. She just had to make it through this week and her future would be as golden as grapes ripening on the vine.
The drapes fluttered again as a small gust of wind blew into the room, bringing the sweet smell of fruit and flowers. She shouldn’t be lying here dreaming about the future. There was nature to explore. Excitement bubbled up, forcing her off the bed. Just as she slipped her shoes back on, her phone chirped with an incoming text. It sounded a second time, and again in rapid succession.
She pulled the instrument from her purse and studied the texts. As she suspected, the office was one clown short of a circus. Her co-workers had been alone with Deidre for less than a day and already they were planning a revolution. For sure, if they could, they’d vote her off the island.
Instead of leaving her room, Jac hit the return button on the last text. As the call connected, she took a seat in the navy barrel chair by the desk. Too bad she couldn’t relax and enjoy the cushiony comfort surrounding her. Certain this would take a while, she kicked her shoes back off and hunkered down to kick ass and fix whatever Deidre had broken.
While she set things to right, the guy, Marcus, knocked on the door and delivered her luggage and a map of the property. She muted the volume on her call. “Thanks. Hopefully I won’t be on this call too much longer.”
Marcus smiled, his white teeth dazzling against his dark skin. He nodded to her phone and whispered, “When you’re done, if you want a guided tour, ask Jules to find me. I’d be happy to play hooky and show you around.”
She grimaced. “Not sure I’ll ever be done with this problem. I think my employer sent the wrong person to team building.”
Once he’d exited the room, she heard his laughter all the way down the hall.
“No, Nona. I told you I’m in California, not Tuscany.” Exasperation traveled through Luke Rossi’s jaw, making the muscles pop. He wiggled his chin from side to side, attempting to alleviate excess tension.
“But Luca, you said you were going to wine country,” Nona stated, her words lightly accented with the pretty emphasis typical in people who weren’t native English speakers.