Authors: J Gordon Smith
Discovering True Love in a California Vineyard
New Adult Contemporary Romance
J Gordon Smith
Ayton & Greene Publishing Company
Copyright (c) 2013 by J Gordon Smith
Zachary Steel is a handsome stay-at-home father in his mid-twenties who sacrificed his promising industrial career to make life better for his children. He finds his now sole-bread-winning wife becoming resentful and more vicious and then he learns – unfaithful. His passion copes by throwing him into his small, struggling California winery investment.
Among the Temecula Valley vineyards, Zack glimpses the promise of love again when he meets Claire Vega touring the wineries with her friends – a captivating and smart young woman finishing her business degree.
Claire wonders why she finds this young married man so charming and desirable and worries she is only his fling when she wants so much more of him. Zack is terrified Claire could abandon him and twist his heartache for her into disappointment, sadness, and dark loneliness – especially when he finds she has been keeping a secret from him. Can they cling together through tragedy and strengthen each other against family opposition to their growing relationship? Will they build trust and
on top of hot desire among the California vineyards? Will they find despair … or happiness?
A New Adult Contemporary Romance
Recommended for adult readers due to sexual situations, language, and content.
URNISHED GOLD GLINTED from the tip of the somber mountain that stood along the vastness of the southern horizon, but the color disappeared as the winter sun faded into shimmering starlight. The evening brought a crisp breeze darting up the dormant vineyard in snappy bursts to remind its trembling vines that spring remained elusive yet.
Zack pushed through the heavy oak crush-pad doors of Amber Mountain Winery toward the parking lot. “Another failed year, Rutger! How do we increase customer traffic and earnings?” He flipped his sports jacket lapel, the charcoal fabric fading into the evening, while his other arm gripped a stack of grim binders. His polished shoes sparkled in the slit of light cutting from between the barrel racks inside the winery. “You have enough cash for the capital call?”
Rutger searched his pocket for his rental keys, his feet crunching in the gravel, “In the middle of the deepest recession in eighty years? No. But we are still early in this project as investments go. We won’t be able to evaluate it for at least five years.”
“Let’s toss these in our cars and get back to the tasting room. I want to see how busy the floor traffic is.” Zack peered over his shoulder, the rough stone of the winery chunky and solid against the hill and glowing with energy from within. Guests and winery investors floated through the warmly lit tasting room and the tiled patio. They cupped goblets of wine like delicate crystals scattering light that winked at the twinkling stars far overhead.
“Traffic looks good.” Rutger opened his car door and tumbled the binders and notes across the passenger seat. “I have pictures of the other wineries from today. They were all busy, but it looked like we are the busiest.”
“That’s good to hear –”
“– and I think we have the youngest crowd. If we can convert them into repeat customers while we grow, then I have hope for this place.”
“How do we track demographics?” Zack caught the edge of the bounding trunk lid as it sprang open, “The men will tell us directly, but how many women are going to say how old they are? My wife avoids sharing that statistic.”
“Scan data and the rating cards along with photographs. We don’t need to be exact with ages, just know if we see a lot of younger, middle aged, or retired groups and what they spend. Then we target advertising and hope for the best.”
A diesel tour bus growled up the drive. The splash of a banner plastered along its side proclaimed
San Diego Party Platoon
. Both Zack and Rutger banged shut their cars before swirling dust coated the interiors.
Rutger coughed, “When are we upgrading the drive?”
Zack said, “Not used to this dry air being away from that foggy London dampness?” He slapped Rutger on the shoulder, “Martin Ginter has the task punch list. And so far he’s keeping on schedule; the drive gets upgraded this next summer.” They walked to the sharp light of the barrel cave and then up the gritty cement steps to the main tasting room.
“Think that bus is full of casino retirees?”
“Can’t say since I couldn’t see through the window tinting. However, Rutger, I’ll pour your first glass of wine if they are all twenty-something. Good odds since some of these bus lines specialize in younger groups.”
“I can only hope. You are married and what, barely over twenty yourself?”
“Twenty-six,” Zack admitted. “See how free we are with ages?”
“But married. That’s in my favor. I’ll have the whole fancy market to myself.”
“I’ll bet you are extra attractive with that British accent you barely hide.”
“The prettier the girl – the bigger my accent!” Rutger shuffled his feet in a little dance step. “The best me Mum could give me – with chutney and tea!” He pushed his black-rimmed glasses tighter on his face and laughed.
People mingled three and four deep around the long curving bars. Everyone chatted, laughed, and clearly enjoyed the evening. Rutger said, “Good sign, both tasting bars are packed and still a younger crowd. The only older people I see are really the investors, but few of them are on the floor.”
“Most of the investors are outside at the reflection pools or the sides of the patio.” Zack nodded toward the floor to ceiling plate windows that arched up two stories, split only by brickwork and dark wood trim. In the daytime, the windows blazed with the panoramic view of the vineyards streaking away to the mountain range along the distant southern horizon. “I didn’t see the bus unload yet.”
“I see the bus lights shutting down, should be soon.”
“Oh! Looks like you are pouring mate,” Rutger said as the main tasting room doors swung wide to pass the bus load of cheering women trailing a petite blond-haired woman in a tiara. “Looks like a bachelorette party. I’ll see you at the bar table over there where Samantha is standing. I’d like a red wine.”
“Hello, Samantha. Here you go, Rutger.” Zack set down the two drinks he cradled in his hand, “One of these is for you, Samantha.”
“Rutger told me you had a bet on the age of that last bus.” Samantha slid the spaghetti strap of her floral print dress into place. The dress fit Samantha’s slim frame perfectly, running straight from her hips to where it ended at her knees, revealing expensive custom alterations. She kept both of her burgundy heels as modestly close to each other as if she were sitting in a chair. Zack knew she was in her late fifties, and probably colored and curled her shoulder length black hair, but she could be in Rutger’s assessment of the younger crowd. Zack tightened his stomach muscles without thinking – a nearly involuntary clench.
“Rutger didn’t know I was going to get the wine anyway. I had Martin Ginter pour us a barrel sample.”
“Which one Zack?”
“The Cabernet Franc. The father vine of the Cabernet Sauvignon that every other winery carries these days.”
“Cab-Sauv can be fantastic,” Rutger said.
“Try this.” Zack swirled and sipped his wine, “I think you’ll like the finish.”
“Oh, yes.” Samantha agreed. “This is great and it’s only missing a bit more time with the oak.”
“This is what we expect.” Rutger said. He glanced around, pushing his glasses up, “Looks to me like the customers are mostly twenties still and more women, even outside that last bus – most of them are clustered over there.” A lot of cheering and laughing came from that corner of the tasting bar.
Zack nodded, “Good to draw the younger segment, maybe the best segment to pull, if we can create customers out of them now they could stay with us as we grow. That would be great. Could they be more adventurous and willing to try a new winery?”
Samantha shrugged and sipped her wine, “Could be simply that this place is fun. It has a great vibe.”
Rutger held up his camera, “Zack, here are those pictures I mentioned. I wanted to see how our customers compared to the competitors. I only saw retirees at the spa winery up the street. Disturbing that none of them are smiling. Is the wine over there so sad it makes everyone grumpy? I’m glad I only see smiles and laughter here at our place.”
Zack glanced from Rutger’s phone to the crowd, “I see what you mean. What do you think Samantha?”
Rutger added as the phone transferred hands, “– those two pictures show our tasting room and theirs around two this afternoon, at least within fifteen minutes of my car drive. So comparable.”
Samantha studied the pictures and the tasting room, “Rutger’s right. More people and a younger crowd. I even think that we should give up our table, it’s getting packed –”
“Hey, excuse us,” a pretty voice behind Zack said. “Do you mind if we share your table? It’s full in here!”
Zack turned and saw three friends with freshly poured wine glasses and a plate of cheese in the speaker’s hands. Zack scooted closer to Samantha and tugged on Rutger’s jacket sleeve, “No. Happy to share. We should give you the table since we’re mostly just the help.”
“You don’t look like just any help,” said one of the two girls. Her eyes seemed to smile along with the corners of her mouth when she said, “I’m Claire.”
“I’m Zack,” he shook her hand after she set her wine glass on the table. She wore a sleeveless blue top and black slacks over matching open toed sandals. Zack kept his eyes fixed on Claire’s, “Rutger, make a note we need to double the number of tables in here.” Claire’s eyes lingered on his then slipped away, her lips still holding their smile.
“Yes, adding to the punch list.”
Samantha asked, “Are the three of you from around Temecula or farther away?”
Claire said, “I’m from Long Beach. Leiko and I were roommates at Cal State. She’s from Japan originally. Alfanjo works in Old Town Temecula.”
Leiko blurted like a boiling teapot, “Alfanjo and I are engaged! Just last week.” Her smile spread while she proudly showed the ring on her neatly manicured fingers.
Alfanjo moved his sunglasses to the top of his head, burying them in his short-cut deep-black hair, crunchy with hair gel, “Slow down, Leiko.” He grinned. “They’re not too worried about that.”
Samantha said, “Hey, that’s great! Any date set yet?”
“Not yet. Maybe next summer.”
Rutger said, “Talk to Debra, the serious one over there holding the binder and wearing the turquoise shirt, she handles weddings.”
Zack said, “Weddings in the vineyard are very romantic. But we’re biased … As you guessed; Rutger, Samantha, and I are a little more than workers, we each own little bits of this place.”
Claire cupped her hand in front of her mouth to hide the small bite of cheese she had just taken, “Wow!”
Zack said, “– Small owners. A startup company with thirty-eight partners total. Others have the significant investments. Rutger and I barely afforded this table together.”
“No Zack, it was the even smaller side table in that back hall over there,” Rutger leaned toward Claire, “Startup is really a code for
not making any money yet
Samantha said, “But hopefully making money soon.” she clinked her glass against Zack’s.
Leiko said, “I live near here and drive this way on my way to work. A lot of people I know come here since it’s nice –”
Alfanjo raised his glass, “– And the wine is great!”
They all laughed. Zack glanced at Claire carefully. He turned to Alfanjo, “Alfanjo, you’ve just won a tour of the tasting room! Are you three interested in seeing where the magic happens?”