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Authors: Cate Ashwood

Tags: #gay romance

Tasting Notes

BOOK: Tasting Notes
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Tasting Notes

By Cate Ashwood

 

There’s nothing that can’t be solved over a glass of excellent wine.

Joseph “West” Weston has paid for his wealth and success with long hours at the office and no personal life to speak of. Meetings, conference calls, and paperwork dominate his waking hours and have kept him from honoring the promise he made to his late grandfather years before.

After leaving the Marines, Robert “Rush” Coeman returns to his hometown and settles in as a Christmas tree farmer. His life is quiet and simple, and he likes it that way. When West arrives in town and buys Rush’s parents’ vineyard on a whim, that simple life is turned upside down. The animosity between them is palpable, but Rush shelves his preconceived notions in order to protect his parents’ legacy. He agrees to help West learn how to run the vineyard, and Rush soon realizes that love doesn’t necessarily come in the package he expected.

A thousand thank yous to Sandra, L.J., Trisha, Becky, and Mary for your invaluable advice, critiques, and support. You ladies mean the world to me.

As always, thank you to Grace and her editing team for whipping my words into shape and to the entire Dreamspinner staff for all their hard work and dedication to making each book as close to perfect as possible. This book wouldn’t be the same without you.

And last but not least, a special thank you to Lynn for working with me on this story to make it so much better than it was. You have my eternal gratitude.

Chapter One

 

 

IT WAS
time to get shit done.

Joseph Weston stretched his arms out in front of him, hands poised above his keyboard. Sixty-seven e-mails to get through, all before 8:00 a.m. It was incredible how quickly they piled up overnight, optimistic entrepreneurs with all their hopes pinned on that single piece of correspondence. A sliver of his conscience cringed. He did half a skim of most of the pitches in less time than it took for Scarlet, his assistant, to bring him his double shot, no fat, no foam latté. As he took the first sip, he did a mass delete on them all. Being a successful venture capitalist meant he made decisions with logic rather than emotion. There was no room for guilt in the way he managed his firm.

He drank the rest of his coffee, waiting for the anticipated kick of the caffeine entering his bloodstream, while he set up reminders for Scarlet to schedule meetings later in the week. His calendar was already nearly full, and Monday was barely off the ground. That was pretty typical, though, and a blessing on that particular day.

By the time his first potential client showed up, he was deep into the facts and figures that would help him make a decision about whether or not to invest with the small business owner he had met with the week before. He dialed the extension for the office Helena and Alex, two of his associate VCs, shared. He relayed the information and let them know to expect an e-mail from him so they could pick up where he left off. Both agreed enthusiastically and promised to have something to tell him before the meeting that afternoon.

West liked Helena and Alex in equal measure. He’d handpicked both to be his second in command a few years earlier and he’d never regretted it. Helena was focused and driven, and possessed more gumption than a lot of the other associates he’d had in the past. Alex was meticulous and charismatic, which went a long way when dealing face-to-face with clients. He made a mental note to look into options for partnership. He’d been running the firm on his own for a long time. He had never been interested in having a partner before, but the company was growing and he was having a difficult time keeping up with the demands of all his clients. The associates helped, but he was responsible for all major decisions, and his time became more and more precious.

The day was busy enough that, once more, West would have forgotten to eat if not for Scarlet’s intervention. As the clock clicked over to five, he sat behind his desk and realized he was stalling. Normally his workday extended far into the evening, but tonight there was little to do, and he was running out of excuses to stay. An evening off should have been a joy, but today was the one day West would have preferred to stay occupied. There was less chance his mind would wander, landing on the loss of the only man who ever meant anything to him.

Eventually he gave up, phoning his driver before shutting his laptop down. Sticking around an empty office with nothing to divert his attention was likely to make him sadder than anything. He slipped his jacket on, clicked off the lights, and strode to the elevator.

It was a short ride down to the lobby, and when he arrived, his black town car was already parked and Marshall, his driver, was standing outside waiting to open the door for him. He climbed in and settled into the soft leather seats as Marshall dashed around the back and got into the driver’s seat.

“Home, sir?”

“Yes please,” West replied.

Rush hour had set in by the time they made their way onto South Lakeshore Drive. It had been a long time since West had seen the water in daylight. Most of his days began before the sun rose and lasted well into the evening. They neared Navy Pier, one of the places in the city that most reminded him of the one person he was trying not to think about today. The pain was still so fresh, although West lost him nearly five years earlier.

Without conscious thought, he asked Marshall to take him to the marina. His driver complied, quickly signaling and changing lanes to exit into the parking lot for the Chicago Yacht Club.

“Go on home, Marshall,” West said, stepping out of the car. “I’m going to be a while. I can get a cab from here.”

“If you change your mind, just give me a call,” Marshall said before rolling up his window and pulling back out onto the street.

West pulled his jacket a little tighter around his body. The wind coming off the water had a bite to it that cut through the fabric of his coat. He walked along the pier, approaching his slip, and climbed aboard his boat, an inexplicable urge to be on the water taking hold of him. He ventured out onto the deck, comforted by the easy motion of the yacht bobbing on gentle waves. He looked out over the water, and for the first time that day, he gave up trying to keep the memories from flooding back.

He watched the clouds move, and he thought about his grandfather, the man who raised him, who provided for him, encouraged him, and believed in him. Without that man, West would never have become who he was.

When his parents were killed as bystanders to a robbery gone wrong, his grandfather had stepped up immediately, taking West in and raising him like his son. He dealt with West’s bad-tempered teenage years, his sullen behavior made worse by dealing with the loss of his parents. Not a single day passed where West didn’t feel the warmth and completeness of his grandfather’s love for him. He was the one to teach West to drive, to tie a tie, to throw a punch. He showed him the importance of discipline, hard work, and determination, while always being kind and understanding of others.

West hugged his arms to his chest, remembering the times his grandfather had brought him to this exact pier, where they looked out over the water and West listened to the stories from his days at sea. His grandfather had a million stories from the time he served in the Navy, and West remembered every single one. He felt as though he lived that part of his grandfather’s life with him, seeing those experiences through his grandfather’s eyes in his storytelling.

He always told West the ocean was a different beast altogether, but despite his grandfather’s love for the sea, they never made it there when he was alive. He exhaled, his breath hanging, visible in the air. It had been five years. Five years since his grandfather died. Guilt wracked him. He’d vowed to lay his grandfather’s ashes to rest in the ocean he loved so much, and yet they were still in a cold metal urn, sitting above a hearth that was never warm, because West was never home.

He felt the loss as keenly as the day it happened, the suddenness of the pain that had his grandfather struggling to breathe. They were at home together, about to sit down to dinner—one of West’s few trips home on one of his few days off—when his grandfather keeled over, clutching his chest. It happened in an instant. One moment they were joking around, the next his grandfather’s face was ashen gray. West called 911 immediately and started CPR, but his grandfather never regained consciousness.

He looked at his watch, realizing he’d been sitting on the deck of his boat for hours. He had so many memories, but he wished he had more. West offered up a silent apology to the universe for not being able to save him, before he turned and, tugging his coat around him once more, headed home.

 

 

WEST’S ALARM
chimed at 4:00 a.m. He forced himself to pull the covers off, the cold air in his house seeping through his skin and chilling him to his core. He hurried to the bathroom to shave and shower before ambling back to his bedroom to choose one of his monochromatic suits.

Dressing quickly, he went through the mental list of meetings scheduled. The Nordic investment was only the first of back-to-back conferences. He’d be lucky if he had enough time in his day to take a piss, let alone get a break. He steeled himself and pulled his shoes on. Long days and endless meetings went with the territory. Being that he was the boss, theoretically he could pass off the responsibility to someone else, but West liked to maintain tight control over his clients, both current and prospective.

He walked out his front door, pausing to lock it behind him. It felt like everyone else in the city was still asleep, snug in their warm beds, while West shivered as he jogged the short distance between his home and the car waiting to take him to the office.

 

 

A FEELING
of loneliness set in as Marshall pulled in front of the building where West spent most of his time. Today it felt more desolate than usual. Maybe it was the cold weather or the period of self-reflection from the night before, but whatever it was, it had West missing his grandfather more than he had since he died. He tried to shake it off and climbed out of the car, squaring his shoulders before walking into the building.

Once he was comfortably seated in the large chair behind his desk, he fired up his laptop. For the first time, he felt dismayed rather than excited at the sheer number of e-mails that cluttered his inbox. According to the clock in the bottom corner of the screen, he still had seventeen minutes before his teleconference, so he spent them going through the messages. He deleted forty-seven after a cursory reading. Forty-seven people whose dreams would be dashed on account of him. Forty-seven people who would be checking their e-mail religiously every few minutes to see if they’d heard back from him.

Suddenly, despite his strongest defenses, West felt like the world’s biggest pile of shit.

 

 

BY NOON
West was exhausted, but there was no time to stop. His last conference of the morning ran long, forcing West to rush down the hallway toward the elevator to make his lunch meeting on time. He pressed the button and waited, becoming more and more agitated the longer it took to arrive.

The doors finally slid open, and West felt like someone punched him in the gut. He blinked hard and stepped inside, the elderly man who was standing at the rear of the space looking up as West entered. For that brief moment, West could have sworn he was seeing his grandfather in that elevator. He knew it was impossible, and as he looked again he saw the man bore little resemblance at all. He was losing his mind.

As the doors closed, West exhaled, trying to push the tension from his shoulders. The tiny space was stuffy, making it difficult to breathe. He felt like he’d been trying to catch his breath all morning, but there was a weight pressing down on his chest he couldn’t seem to shake. Mistaking the man for his grandfather was a clear sign he needed to get a grip.

When he stepped out on street level, he checked his phone again, noticing only two minutes had passed. He wasn’t yet late for the meeting. He crossed the street quickly and smiled at the hostess as he entered the restaurant. It was one of the better places in the area and drew quite a large lunch crowd—mostly business people who appreciated the efficient service.

As he scanned the restaurant, looking for his clients, he heard a shout. West turned to see a woman screaming for help, her lunch companion clutching his chest and struggling to breathe. West froze in place, the scene bringing back memories of watching his grandfather die. A man from the next table sprang to action, and in a matter of seconds started chest compressions. The paramedics and fire department arrived only a couple of minutes later. They brushed past West, who was still motionless, watching the scene unfold in front of him.

Two medics took over for the other diner, alternating chest compressions and puffs of air with a sort of mask while a third cut off the man’s shirt and attached stickers to his chest. They shocked him twice but never managed to revive him. After a few minutes, they loaded him onto a stretcher and wheeled him out to the ambulance waiting outside. His client approached him after the frenzy died down.

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