Authors: Jess Dee
This book is dedicated to my fellow Down Under Divas: Lex, Sami and RC. Here’s to sharing many more books, discussions, debates, margaritas, frozen yogurts, nachos, early morning walks, late night talks, laughs, tears and conferences together.
That guy who sat behind us in the hotel lounge (while we discussed acceptable behaviors for a ménage) missed out on all the really good stuff: Us.
To my wonderfully fantastic beta readers, Fe, Dawn and Kelly.
And as always, to a woman I admire more with every word she writes, Jennifer.
“This is a medium-bodied red, made with the most widely grown grape in Australia. It has a higher alcohol content than other wines, which makes the Shiraz an ideal complement to heavy foods such as venison and steak.”
The man’s words only half-registered in Angus Lowe’s mind. He’d cut out the drone of wine description at the last estate, bored by the never-ending narratives of vintage, appearance and taste.
Far as he was concerned, a wine either tasted good or it didn’t. It was either red or it was white. End of story. The pink shit and the bubbly stuff that Lily seemed to love didn’t really factor in as alcohol. Besides, he’d take a beer over wine any day. In fact, he’d give his left testicle for a coldie right now. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t just the beer he wanted. Maybe it was a whole lot more. Still, the amber fluid would go down way more smoothly than the red did.
But there wasn’t a beer in sight. So with no choice, Angus lifted the wine to his lips, carefully so the delicate glass didn’t shatter in his enormous hand, and drank without pausing to appreciate the aromatic bouquet first.
He didn’t bother swirling the Shiraz around in his mouth, didn’t give it a chance to saturate his taste buds, and he flat-out refused to spit it into the jug over there, like everyone else insisted on doing.
Nope, he downed the whole damn thing. Sucked it into his throat as fast as it could go, taking no time to appreciate the flavor or excessive alcohol content. As far as he was concerned, there was no alcohol content high enough for his needs.
Maybe if he got hammered on the minute servings of wine, he wouldn’t feel so bloody frustrated. Or so damn out of place.
It was his own fault. His own misguided need to spend time with Lily Hemington that had him here in the first place. He should just have said no. Should have refused the invitation to check out her friend’s grounds. Yeah, the guy might be in need of a skilled landscaper, but Angus lived in Sydney. Taking a job—no matter how big it was—over two hours’ drive away from home was just daft.
Although Lily had made it clear this was a work trip, aside from a cursory discussion when Angus had arrived at her parents’ estate in the Hunter Valley, work hadn’t come up. She’d charmed him into being her passenger in the sleek, low Merc SLK she drove, and they’d set off on a wine-tasting tour of the Hunter that Lily insisted Angus had to experience.
“Blake isn’t here yet,” she’d said. “He’ll arrive about noon, so we might as well pass the time enjoying ourselves, don’t you think?”
Blake Seymour, millionaire and owner of a newly acquired twenty-five acre vineyard and boutique hotel. The vineyards and winery were productive, but the hotel was temporarily closed, and until the gardens had been improved, Blake wouldn’t open the doors to the public.
“I thought I’d show you the not-so-touristy tour of the Hunter. The lesser-known wine estates.”
She must have seen something in his face, because Lily had rushed on to reassure him. “They may not be as popular as the more commercial estates, but I promise, the wine is the best in the region.”
And then she’d smiled. Just once. But it was all she needed to do to convince Angus a tour of the lesser-known wine estates in the Hunter was as essential to him as oxygen.
No longer so convinced, Angus shifted from one foot to the other, way out of his comfort zone. The tastefully designed and beautifully decorated buildings boasting handfuls of elite wine tasters—most of whom Lily knew—just wasn’t his thing. He needed to be outside in the lush fields. Walking between the endless rows of vines, appreciating the soil beneath his feet, inhaling its earthy, mineral scent.
Yeah, he knew sweet bugger-all about grape farming. But he understood soil, he knew plants, and combining the two to create exquisite gardens was his forte. Which was the reason he’d joined Lily in the Hunter. To check out the estate Blake had recently purchased and discuss the possibility of taking on the job to remodel the gardens.
His muscles twitched with the need to get outside, feel the sun on his skin and the soil beneath his feet, and be himself.
He needed that freedom and comfort about as much as he needed Lily.
Fuck, he ached for the woman. Had ever since Lily had hired him to landscape the garden of her newly renovated house, which he’d completed the day before this journey to the Hunter.
She glanced at him now, and Angus swore Lily’s eyes twinkled as her lips curved into a small smile.
Christ, what he’d give for her to wrap those lips around his dick. As inappropriate as the thought was in the middle of a roomful of people, it was enough to give him an erection. Blood emptied into his groin so fast it left him dizzy.
“Are you okay?” Lily asked, laying a hand on his arm.
Angus gave a cursory nod. “I’m fine.”
She narrowed her eyes. “You sure? You seem…tense.”
Ah, hell. What did he say? “Not tense. Just not as familiar with wine as you and everyone else here seem to be.” He jutted his chin in the direction of two other guests. They were involved in a serious discussion with the owner of the third wine farm they’d visited so far today—a friend of Lily’s father
The man held a bottle of white up to the light, inspecting the…color?
“I grew up here,” Lily explained. “Wine’s in my blood.”
“Yeah, well, beer’s in mine.”
She laughed. “You’re itching to take a look at Blake’s garden, aren’t you?”
“Figured that’s why I was here.” He hadn’t expected to be treated like a friend. “I hadn’t counted on spending the morning wine tasting.”
“It’s the weekend, Angus. You’ve worked all week—and I should know. My garden looks utterly stunning. Take a breather. Relax. Enjoy the Valley and all it has to offer. We’ll head over to Blake’s hotel soon.”
Angus’s idea of relaxation was a sweaty—and sometimes bloody—game of rugby with mates, followed by a night at a pub nursing several bottles of beer. Wine estates were way too…genteel for him.
“Try the 2007 Cab Sav. I think you’ll like it.” Lily took two glasses from the counter and handed one to Angus. She held her own beneath her nose and sniffed. Her eyes closed and her shoulders heaved upward.
The action hit Angus like a blow to the chest. Oh, yeah. That was the look he wanted to see on Lily’s face…as she lay beneath him, moaning his name.
Not going to happen. Lily had never given any indication she may be interested in the garden landscaper. Not in the strip-me-now-and-fuck-me kind of way Angus hoped she would. Not in the spend-the-night-and-I’ll-make-you-breakfast way either. Not in any way, come to think of it.
Angus downed the wine. The flavor registered only enough for him to decide it tasted exactly like the Shiraz. And the Merlot he’d tried before. As far as he could tell, they all tasted the same.
Fuck, he was a heathen. A bogan. Of course Lily had never given any indication she liked him. Why would a woman of her class and background ever show interest in Angus? Unlike the stunning woman before him, he’d grown up in a two-bedroom house he’d shared with his parents and four brothers, gone to public school, and had no choice but to join the work force the second he’d finished school. Studying further had never been an option for him.
Lily had not only completed her university education—as her several degrees in art attested—she now worked both at the uni as a lecturer and at home as a painter.
As Lily sipped, she opened her blue eyes and stared straight into Angus’s, appreciation written all over her face. She must have found something in the wine Angus hadn’t, because he sure hadn’t experienced that same appreciation. But then Lily did take a little longer to sample the damn stuff. And she knew a whole lot more about wine than he ever would.
Lily looked at the spittoon, looked back at Angus and swallowed.
A trickle of sweat ran down Angus’s back.
Had that been planned, or was his sex-starved body playing head games with him? Was she deliberately teasing him, or just aligning herself to him by choosing not to use the spittoon, like he had? The latter, of course. Which was a pity, seeing as he preferred the first choice. He couldn’t look away. He watched as she waited a second, then—gaze still on Angus—wiped a drop of wine from the corner of her mouth.
Fuck, it shouldn’t have any effect on Angus. Shouldn’t make his dick stand to further attention or his chest tighten, but God help him, it did. It made him half-crazy with desire. Made him want to haul Lily across the room, tear that wisp of a dress right down the front and taste every inch of her until he reached her pussy. There he’d find a liquid he knew he’d have untold appreciation for.
Before instinct could get the better of him and he embarrassed both himself and Lily with his barbaric needs, Angus set his glass on the polished wooden countertop and marched out of the room. He didn’t stop marching until he reached the first row of vines, where fat, green grapes ripened on the branches. The sun’s rays penetrated his T-shirt, burning his already heated skin.
His dick ached, his balls pulled in tight knots against the base of his shaft and blood drummed in his ears. Three weeks he’d spent sweating over Lily’s garden. Three weeks of arriving early enough to ensure he got to see the woman before she left for her morning lectures. As a rule, he was an eight-to-five guy. Arriving early was so not his style.
But then Lily wasn’t his style either. She was too damn…pretty. Too well bred. Always in her flowy-type dresses—when she wasn’t painting, anyway. The feminine ones that hinted at the lush curves beneath and gave glimpses of shapely calves and high, pert breasts. She even spoke with a British tinge to her accent, compliments of her four years spent at Cambridge.
An artist? Really? And a university lecturer. What the hell was Angus thinking? Couldn’t he have fallen for a waiter or waitress? Or a salesperson? A council worker? Maybe even a tradie, like himself?
Male or female, he wasn’t fussy. He liked them both. Soft curves and good tits or a firm ass and a hard dick. Either worked. He’d just always assumed he’d fall for someone on his wavelength. Someone who understood his way of life, his way of viewing the world.
But, no. Not him. He had to step way out of his league and lust after a slip of woman with sixteen degrees.
He needed to get a grip, shake off his hard-on, put his head on straight and get back to—
The hand on his shoulder caught him by surprise. An expensive, floral scent caught him in the gut. His mouth watered and the hairs on his arm stood on end. Hints of strawberry, jasmine and violet filled the air, the aroma both tempting and tormenting, and so very different from the syrupy sweetness of the sun-ripened grapes.
Fuck, what kind of pussy was he? His arm hair standing on end because a woman touched his shoulder? Because her aroma made him stop thinking rationally? Stop thinking, full stop?
Angus turned to face Lily warily.
“You ran out of there so fast I didn’t have a chance to stop you.” Her gaze searched his. “You look, I don’t know. Agonized?” Her face filled with concern. “Would you like to talk about it? Tell me what’s going on.”
Perhaps if she hadn’t been standing so close, he wouldn’t have done it. If her perfume hadn’t thrown his head into chaos and his body into overdrive, he’d have found the willpower to step back.
But fuck, the woman stood inches away, smelling like the summer breeze and looking like an angel. A saint couldn’t have found the self-control to stop.
Angus dipped his head and kissed her.
Lily would have stumbled in surprise had her mouth not been plastered to the hottest, most pliable set of lips she’d ever had the pleasure of kissing.