Authors: Darcy Burke
She started down the stairs. “This is an amazing facility. When will you be open for tasting?”
He trailed her to the main floor. “Not until November. The tasting room’s not done yet. Hey, do you want a tour?”
“I do, but I can’t today. I have another appointment I need to get to.”
He understood. The workday of a wine distributor was busy at best and positively frenetic at worst.
He moved through the unfinished tasting room and passed her to open the door to the parking area in front. “After you.”
She walked by him, and he inhaled her sweet, intoxicating scent. It certainly looked as though he was going to blow right through his three-strikes rule. He couldn’t seem to help himself.
She dug into her bag and pulled out a pair of sunglasses, then slid them on, shielding her magnificent blue-green eyes. What a shame. But he couldn’t deny she was just as sexy with the Burberry shades.
He didn’t have his sunglasses on him, so he used his hand to shield his eyes. “I’ll see you Tuesday night—you didn’t pick where.”
“Georgia’s. It’s close to where I live. I’ll meet you there at seven.”
“Perfect.” It was close to where he lived too, and he wondered if they were maybe neighbors. He surely would’ve run into her, but maybe she was new to the neighborhood. He wanted to ask—hell, he wanted to know everything about her—but decided to save it for Tuesday night. For their date. Because, sadly, his partners weren’t going to be able to make it.
“See you then.” She turned and went to her car, a fairly new, dark gray Acura MDX, and climbed inside.
He waited until she drove away before going back into the winery. That was when the reality of what he was doing hit him. He was pursuing her. But for what? He hadn’t lied about not being a player anymore, but he also didn’t usually feel this way about a woman.
And what way was that? Like he wanted to know everything about her. Like he wanted to talk with her long into the night. Like he wanted to share himself.
Cold dread curled up his spine. He liked women. Loved them, in fact. And he did his best to be honest and give them a great time for however long they were together. He never, ever wanted to hurt anyone, and he’d been careful not to do so. Eight years on, and his own pain still lingered, still made him want to keep things casual and…safe.
He’d be damned sure to continue that.
rooke walked into Georgia’s just before seven on Tuesday. It seemed especially dim inside after the brightness of outside. The hostess greeted her, and Brooke said she was meeting the Westcotts.
Smiling, the hostess said, “Right this way.” She led Brooke to a small table in the corner in front of a window. It was empty but only had two seats.
“You beat me here.” Cameron came up behind her, and Brooke turned.
She narrowed her eyes at him, uncertain of his motives before looking at the hostess. “We’ll need a table for five, actually.”
“Uh, no, we don’t,” Cameron said. He went to the table and held out a chair for her. “I’m afraid it’s just us. My brothers and Hayden couldn’t make it.”
She didn’t believe that for a second but didn’t say so. Not yet anyway. She threw him a skeptical glare but took the proffered seat and set her purse on the floor beside her.
Cameron sat across from her as the hostess handed them their menus and told them about the specials. He looked up at her and asked, “Can we have a bottle of the 2012 Bergstrom Pinot?”
“Sure thing.” She turned and left.
Brooke peered at him over her menu. “I don’t get to choose the wine? Or at least consult?”
He looked mildly offended. “That’s a fantastic bottle of wine I ordered. You disagree?”
No, she couldn’t disagree. “It might have been nice if you’d asked. I was in the mood for Beaux Frères.”
“Then I’ll order that too.” He set his menu down and looked at her. “I’m sorry. Really. I should’ve asked what you wanted to drink.” His lips twisted into a half-smile. “That’s what I get for trying to impress you.”
Now she felt shrewish. But could she blame herself when she was clearly being manipulated? “Where are your brothers and Hayden, really?”
He picked the menu back up and studied it. “Busy.”
“Did you even invite them?” She should’ve contacted them herself.
He didn’t look up from the menu. “I, ah, mentioned it.”
She shook her head and repeated what she’d told him at the salmon bake. “You are a menace.”
Now he lifted his gaze, and his eyes sparked with mirth. “I thought we’d resolved that you ran into me at the salmon bake. Or is this something you’re going to hold over me forever?”
Forever. That intimated a shared future. Did that mean she’d won the contract with the winery, or did he have other…plans, of a more personal nature? She narrowed her eyes again. “You’re not scoring a lot of points here.”
He laughed. “Tell you what. You order my dinner. I’ll eat whatever you choose.”
It was a silly offer, but she planned to take it. She looked over the appetizers and entrées. “Any dietary issues I need to be aware of?”
“What, like am I vegan or gluten-free? No and no. I’m full glutton.”
She glanced at him, and though he was seated now, she’d noted his slim khakis and the way they hugged his hips. “I don’t buy that for a second. You’re in too good a shape.”
He grinned at her. “Glad you noticed. It’s all that work in the vineyard. Keeps us hopping.”
Great, now he thought she’d been checking him out. Which she had. She couldn’t help it. He was very attractive with his perfectly styled brown hair, seductive green eyes, and sexy-casual sense of style. Plus, she knew that underneath his shirt he possessed a spectacular set of abs. Add in his killer smile, and she could very easily be in trouble.
Which was why she had to be on her guard.
Their server arrived then and poured the wine. Cameron indicated that she should taste the sample, which she did. He’d chosen exceptionally well, damn him. She nodded at the server, who filled their glasses and said he’d be back shortly to take their order.
Brooke perused the possibilities and considered ordering him the vegan risotto just to be a pain in the ass but decided not to.
“So what am I eating?” he asked, interrupting her selection process.
“I’m having the filet, and you’re having the duck.”
“Excellent, though I might’ve chosen the filet too.”
“Too bad. You gave me full control.”
He picked up his wine and gave her a sly, sultry smile. “You can have all the control you want.” He held his glass toward her. “To relinquishing control.”
She rolled her eyes but clinked her glass against his. “Your attempts at flirtation are lame and pointless. This is a business dinner. If we aren’t going to talk about business, I’ll go. I have plenty to do at home.”
Though she’d moved into her loft four weeks ago, she still had a few boxes to unpack and pictures to hang.
He sipped his wine. “Okay, let’s talk business. You’ve got the job.”
Triumph surged in her chest. This would be a great account. “Thanks. You did talk to your brothers and Hayden, right?”
“Of course I did. We’re full partners.”
“And they didn’t want to meet with me?”
He arched a brow at her. “They met you at the salmon bake and, given my background in sales and marketing, they trust my judgment.”
That made sense. She still wished she’d had the chance to talk with them. “I was kind of looking forward to discussing the winemaking.”
“You still can. Why don’t you come by this weekend for that tour? We’re there every day. Luke will take you around the vineyard, and Hayden will tell you more than you want to know about his process.”
“I’d love that. How about Saturday around one?”
She reached down to grab her purse. “Well, I guess we don’t really need to have dinner, do we?”
“Wait.” He gestured toward the wine bottle on the table. “We have all this fantastic wine to drink, and now I have my mouth set on that duck. Plus, it’s not like we don’t have things to discuss. I could give you a complete overview of our wine catalog—small though it is at present.” He glanced toward the approaching server. “He’s coming back to take our order. I’ll leave my fate in your hands.” He sat back in his chair and watched her.
He seemed dead set on letting her be in control, which meant she could conclude this evening right now. Except as soon as the server arrived, she placed their order.
When they were alone once more, Cameron sat forward. “I’m surprised. But pleased.” His gaze brimmed with anticipation. “Thank you.”
She was pretty sure he was looking at this as some kind of date, or at least half business, half date, so she cast him an arch look. “This isn’t a date.” Was she informing him or herself? She had to admit she liked Cameron, and she found his persistence… Well, she wasn’t sure what she found it. But she didn’t dislike it. “Tell me about your wines.”
He smiled broadly. “Happy to.”
He spent the next ten minutes telling her how they’d started the winery two years ago, and that they’d only claimed a small percentage of grapes from that vintage. They’d made some limited cases of chardonnay and pinot gris, and slightly more of a pinot noir—the one she’d tasted the other night. Last year, the entire yield was theirs, which had given them a good supply of the whites and would generate a handful of varieties of pinot noir.
His enthusiasm was infectious. Brooke smiled as she wrapped her fingertips around the stem of her glass. “I can’t wait to come see the operation and taste everything you’ve got.”
He started to smile and maybe open his mouth, but he took a drink of wine instead.
She narrowed her eyes at him. “Were you going to make some sort of innuendo?”
He set his glass down and sighed. “Guilty as charged. Sorry, I really am trying to keep to business. At the same time, I have to tell you that I’m incredibly attracted to you.” He said this with a matter-of-fact tone, without intensity, without any layered nuance. It made her shiver nonetheless. “Sorry, I probably shouldn’t have said that since we do have a business relationship, but you’ll find that I’m a straight shooter. I figured I had two choices—ignore that attraction or come clean. The former seems kind of impossible, so I went with the latter.” He grinned at her.
She was having a hard time thinking of him as a smarmy player when he was so forthright and charming. She was inconveniently attracted to him too. But she didn’t say so. “I appreciate you focusing on business—and I would appreciate you trying to ignore your, uh, attraction. Because that’s so not happening. That said, I, ah, I have to admit you aren’t quite what I expected.”
“Uh-oh. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.”
“Good, I think. I expected you to be, I don’t know…cheesy.” She shrugged. “And I guess you are.”
“I am?” He sounded incredulous but laughed.
“A little.” She grinned. “But it’s kind of cute.”
His eyes sparkled as he smiled at her. “I’ll take it.”
Their dinners arrived, and the conversation turned to wine once more. She was shocked to learn he hadn’t been to France.
He shook his head. “I know, right? And my best friend was making wine over there for a year.”
She scooped a bite of garlic mashed potatoes. “Hayden?”
He nodded. “He interned in Burgundy before we started up West Arch. I’d meant to go but just couldn’t get away that year. I take it you’ve been?”
“Yeah, a few times.”
“A few times. I’m green with envy.”
“Well, the first time was a college trip to Paris. But since then, I’ve been a couple of times. We hit Burgundy on the first trip and Bordeaux on the second.”
He swallowed a bite of duck and washed it back with sip of wine. “Who’s ‘we’?”
Crap, she’d walked right into that one. But her marriage wasn’t a secret. “Uh, my ex.”
She cut a piece of steak. “Husband.”
“Ah. A little more complicated. Why is he your ex?”
That wasn’t a secret per se either, but it was firmly in the do-not-discuss-with-almost-everybody category. “Complicated is the perfect word. Also boring. You don’t really want to hear about my ex-husband, do you?”