Authors: Christie Ridgway
Table of Contents
Praise for the novels of Christie Ridgway
“Christie Ridgway writes with the perfect combination of humor and heart. This funny, sexy story is as fresh and breezy as its Southern California setting.”
New York Times
New York Times
“Tender, funny, and wonderfully emotional.”
“Pure romance, delightfully warm, and funny.”
New York Times
“Funny, supersexy, and fast paced . . . Ridgway is noted for her humorous, spicy, and upbeat stories.”
“Christie Ridgway is a first-class author.”
Midwest Book Review
“Christie Ridgway’s books are crammed with smart girls, manly men, great sex, and fast, funny dialogue. Her latest novel . . . is a delightful example, a romance as purely sparkling as California champagne.”
“Ridgway delights yet again with this charming, witty tale of holiday romance. Not only are the characters sympathetic, intelligent, and engaging, but the sexual tension between the main characters is played out with tremendous skill.”
Titles by Christie Ridgway
HOW TO KNIT A WILD BIKINI
DIRTY SEXY KNITTING
CRUSH ON YOU
THEN HE KISSED ME
CAN’T HURRY LOVE
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
CAN’T HURRY LOVE
A Berkley Sensation Book / published by arrangement with the author
Berkley Sensation mass-market edition / July 2011
Copyright © 2011 by Christie Ridgway.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions. For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
ISBN : 978-1-101-51640-9
Berkley Sensation Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
SENSATION and the “B” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
For Barbara Samuel, aka Barbara O’Neal.
Your support, friendship, and unending willingness
to talk story and craft make my days richer
and my work better. Love you!
In vino veritas
. (In wine is truth.)
—PLINY THE ELDER
Giuliana Baci shivered in the June night air, though flames were crackling and roaring just fifty feet away. She clutched the old leather-bound diary to her chest and stared at the spectacle across the street, trying to take it in. A muscle car passed, possibly attracted by the strobing emergency lights, because it slowed to a lookie-loo pace. It veered toward the opposite curb, and she could see the driver’s neck crane, his eyes obviously not on the parked obstacle just ahead. “Watch out,” she warned, stepping forward.
But it was too late. Two and a half tons of heavy metal had already taken out a headlight and crumpled the hood of a small, innocent sedan. Giuliana’s sedan.
Somehow she wasn’t surprised to see the over-cylindered other vehicle lurch into reverse, shift forward again, then race away from her latest personal disaster.
The screech of tires against pavement was swallowed by the sound of the fire burning up the rest of her belongings in the now-engulfed four-unit apartment building where she’d been living.
“To hell with threes,” she said, her voice as defeated as her mood. Her legs folded and she sank to the curb, the cement cold through her thin robe. One set of bare toes crossed over the other. “If you ask me, bad luck comes in batches.”
“I’m sorry,” the young woman beside her replied. She was perched on the same old-fashioned suitcase she’d lugged into Giuliana’s small apartment when she’d offered her temporary lodging just last week. “I’m so very sorry.”
“That should be my line,” Giuliana answered, though it looked as if Grace had at least saved her possessions. She’d been living out of that very suitcase and sleeping on the—now likely incinerated—living room couch.
“You’ll get through this,” Grace said, her freckled face earnest beneath her rumpled strawberry blonde hair. “No doubt about it.”
Those should have been her lines, too, Giuliana thought. For the last year she’d been repeating them often enough—ever since her father’s death and the Baci sisters’ takeover of the family’s failing one-hundred-year-old winery.
Only a month to go
, she consoled herself now.
Another car sped onto the scene. Giuliana’s nerves went on instant alert, standing on end as she jumped to her feet, still clutching the old diary. Liam Bennett exited the Mercedes even as it rocked to a halt.
Despite her quaking belly, her jellied knees went rock solid.
The girl still has some fight in her
, she thought, relieved.
Now don’t let him sense any weakness in your guard.
Then he was in front of her, the flickering fire and the flashing emergency lights casting reds and yellows over his lean face. Her stomach cramped again and it was as if the heat of the flames set a torch to her skin.
What is wrong with me?
she wondered for the thousandth time. On a daily basis, people encountered their childhood sweethearts and didn’t suffer such an intense physical reaction. But although she’d hidden herself away for a decade, she’d returned only to discover she was still not immune to him.
“What are you doing here?” she croaked out. It sounded more froggy than unfriendly.
He cocked an eyebrow. “This is Edenville.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Small town of six thousand nosy souls in the northern end of the Napa Valley. Word of what happened had likely run faster through the gossip grapevine than the fire through the clothes in her closet. The mental image made her shiver.
Liam saw it, and he reached for her.
every instinct inside her shouted. She swayed back and he froze. Then he stripped off the sports jacket he wore and dropped it over her shoulders, careful that his hands didn’t touch her body.
She wanted to grasp the lapels and hug it against her. She didn’t. She didn’t thank him, either.
The wind shifted, sending smoke across their faces, and she blinked against the sting in her eyes. But it was Liam’s scent that was in her nose—spicy, male—and she had to tighten her grip on the diary to remind herself to stay steady. Strong.
When all she wanted was to collapse against him and bury her face at his throat.
“Jules,” he said. For a second she thought she heard an ache in his voice that mirrored the one in her chest, but that couldn’t be true. Liam’s expression appeared as unreadable as it always did.
Only emphasizing the fact that she had to stand on her own two feet. She’d proven she could, all that long time ago, and she wouldn’t stumble now. People depended upon
, not the other way around, and she was afraid of how she might ultimately be hurt if she forgot that.
Clearing her throat, Giuliana waved away another waft of smoke. “Look, thanks for checking on us. But we’ll be fine.”
“Us?” he echoed, looking around, then his gaze found Grace, who offered him a tentative smile.
Giuliana moved closer to her. “You remember Grace? I hired her to pour in the Tanti Baci tasting room two weeks ago.”
“Hatch . . . ?”
“Yes,” Giuliana confirmed. “The dowser’s daughter.” Old Peter Hatch had owned some rocky acreage in the backcountry and eked out a living divining for water and doing handyman chores. Known as a mean drunk and even meaner dad, those who knew shy and quiet Grace had been actually happy for her when she’d dropped out of high school to marry a boy in the next county just home from the army. Except he’d been cut from the same cloth as her father, and when Grace had shown up at the winery with final divorce papers and a black eye, what could Giuliana do?
“She’s been staying with me,” Giuliana explained to Liam.
He glanced over his shoulder at the apartment building that appeared soon to be ashes. “Then you’ll both need somewhere to stay. You’ll come to my place—”
“No.” She shook her head. “Of course not. We’re headed for the farmhouse. I’ve already left a message for Stevie.”
He crossed his arms over his chest. He wore a cotton polo shirt tucked into dark jeans. His shoulders had been broad and strong as a teenager, his hips lean, his butt nearly nonexistent. As a man, he’d filled out everywhere in all the best ways. Not that she hadn’t tried not to notice.
“That should be fun for you,” he said. “Moving in with two sets of honeymooners.”
Oh, why bother disguising her grimace? Her youngest sister, Allie, had married Liam’s half brother, Penn Bennett, nearly a year before. Though they spent some of their time in Southern California, when they were in Edenville, they took over the first floor of the small frame house the Baci girls had grown up in. The second story was the domain of her other sister, Stevie, who was camping there with her husband of five months, Jack Parini, while they were remodeling the winery on their two-acre vineyard into a home.
She sighed. “It’ll be just like old times.”
“Except for the addition of your ardent brothers-in-law. Good luck trying to ignore all the squeals and heavy breathing.”
“Surely it won’t—”
“They’re horn-dogs, Jules.”
Well, duh. It didn’t take more than five seconds in a room with her sisters and the men they’d married to realize their relationships weren’t lacking in the physical-desire department. “I’m sure Allie and Stevie will keep the lid on when guests are around.”
“Yeah. You Baci girls are always so good at keeping things on simmer.”
The way he said it set her blood to boiling. She moved up, toe-to-toe with him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
He looked down his aristocratic nose at her, all golden boy to barefoot peasant girl. The story of their lives. “We could finish this thing, Giuliana. One damn way or another, if you’d just give over. Move in, and we could—”
“We shouldn’t! We won’t!” Giving over was exactly what she wouldn’t do. Rehashing their past had no place in her future.
“Fine. Your choice.” His face was composed, his voice steady. “But then it’ll bubble and spit and make us both miserable for the
“No! No, it won’t.” She had a plan, already set in motion, that would bring it, everything for all of them, finally to an end. No more emotional distress, no more poignant pulls from the past.
He quirked that brow again. “How so?”
His calm made her want to murder him. While her heart pounded and her mouth went dry when she shared even the largest of spaces with him, he appeared as unmoved as ice forgotten in a freezer. He might talk about being miserable, but he didn’t fathom a damn thing about that emotion or any other.
His doubting tone had her inches closer and on tiptoe. “Because—” she started. Then she halted, her brain clicking in before her temper got the better of her—hey, she’d matured, too. Telling too soon could ruin everything she’d planned. “Just because,” she said, falling back to her heels.
He didn’t twitch a muscle, but she could sense his inner mental eye roll.
The temperature of her blood spiked again. “Don’t give me that look.”
His gaze narrowed. “I’ll tell you what I want to give you—” He broke off as a taxi pulled in beside his vehicle. “Oh, hell.”
She ignored Liam’s disgust as she turned to the figure exiting the cab. At the sight of Kohl Friday’s dark hair and rock-solid form, she let her spine sag. The Tanti Baci vineyard manager didn’t hesitate to move in and bolster her with an arm around her shoulders. “Okay?”
“Okay.” She leaned against him, his presence diminishing a little of the threat she felt in Liam’s company. Kohl smelled of cinnamon gum and tequila—which explained why he hadn’t driven himself. “Phone lines been working overtime?” she asked.
“I’m here to give you a lift,” he said. Then he half turned, his gaze finding the young woman still seated on her suitcase. “Grace.”
Her eyes were wide and focused on Kohl’s face. Giuliana saw her gulp. “Hi,” she said, her voice nearly a whisper.
Kohl turned back quickly, as if aware he was spooking her. “Ready, ladies?”
Giuliana slid a look in Liam’s direction. He’d moved away a few paces to lean against the side of his car, arms and ankles crossed. His expression proclaimed he was bored by the proceedings.
“Ready,” she replied, tacking on a smile for him. Then she walked away from her would-be rescuer with perfect composure—just as Liam, her very first lover, had walked away from her a decade before.
Giuliana peeked through the holes in the crocheted afghan she’d thrown over her head last night as she’d tried getting comfortable on the love seat in her office. Sleep had apparently arrived at some point, since early-morning sunshine was now in the room, along with something that was rummaging around in the large storage closet located across the tattered Oriental carpet. Drawing the blanket below her chin, she blinked against the light.
“Has the European grapevine moth moved on to paper goods now?” she called out.
A petite brunette peered around the door. “Oh, sorry.” Alessandra Baci Bennett, Giuliana’s little sister, formerly known as the “Nun of Napa,” stepped from the closet, her pretty face contrite. “You’re awake?”
Giuliana scooted over to allow the other woman to perch a hip on the sofa cushions and considered the question. “It was all a dream? My apartment didn’t really burn last night, my car wasn’t bashed in, and I’m not actually relegated to using my office as a bedroom?”
“Not the last, certainly,” Allie said, frowning. “You should have bunked down at the farmhouse.”
Liam’s warnings about squeals and heavy breathing had been hard to forget. “I was perfectly comfortable here,” she lied, sitting up. She could smell smoke on her hair and realized she’d have to buy or borrow toiletries along with underwear and clothes and shoes and . . . just about everything. Daunted by the idea, she slid back to prone and closed her eyes. “On second thought, I
asleep.” If she could manage another hour or two of snooze time, maybe all that lay ahead wouldn’t feel so overwhelming.
Pulling the afghan higher on her shoulders, she murmured to her sister, “You don’t need me for anything right this minute, do you?”
There was a telltale hesitation. “Of course not.”
Even before their mom died when the sisters were sixteen, fourteen, and twelve, Giuliana had been like a second mother to Allie. So there was no way she could ignore the younger woman now. Opening her eyes once again, she rose up on her elbows. “Is there a problem?”